Bethlehem Township Volunteer Fire Company was started by a group of Civil Defense wardens in 1946. The group first met at the Wilson school at 2nd & Linden Sts. in the Miller Heights section of Bethlehem Township. This group wanted to provide fire protection to residents of the Township. The founders of the organization faced many challenges in the early years of the company, such as where to locate the station, how to raise the funds necessary to support the company, and how to obtain the first fire truck. Needless to say they faced these challenges and more with success. The property was purchased and a station was erected at 1919 8th St in 1949. An important function of the fire department in the early days was the delivery of water to the residents to fill their cisterns.

Again, these individuals were pioneers. Some of the fireman took the initiative to learn first aid, and so the company began to provide ambulance service in 1956. The men wore white coveralls when responding on the ambulance (women were not allowed at the time). Early records show the ambulance responded to a handful of calls per month in the early days.

The company, with the assistance of the Township, purchased two Mack fire trucks in the early 1960’s. One truck was a pumper (1962 Mack B-85); the other was a rescue truck (1964 Mack B-42). These trucks served the department and the residents of the Township for many years. The pumper was retired in the late 1980’s and the rescue truck served until 2008.

Another first occurred in the mid 1970’s. Bethlehem Township Volunteer Fire Company became the first paramedic service in Northampton County. The residents of the Township now had the finest in emergency care available before they arrived at the hospital. In addition to oxygen and other basic items, the ambulance now carried advanced equipment, including medications, a heart defibrillator, and radios that allowed the paramedics to speak directly to the emergency room physician. The fire/rescue aspect of the company added the “jaws of life” to the trucks during this time frame as well. Now, victims of car accidents that were trapped could be rescued from the car faster than they could be using hand tools. The department was providing state-of-the-art emergency services to the community.

The 1980’s continued to show growth for the organization. The ambulance service expanded with the start of the Medic I project. The project involved the joining of forces by numerous agencies in Northampton County. The Chevy Suburban vehicle was housed at Bethlehem Township Volunteer Fire Company, but the staffing came from each of the agencies involved. The original agencies involved were Allen Twp, East Allen Twp, Bath, Moore Twp, Hecktown, Hanover, Suburban, Williams Twp, Dewey, Se-Wy-Co. The rescue truck was sent out for refurbishment; little did anyone know it would be more than two years before it returned to service. The vendor that was chosen to refurb the vehicle experienced a fire after the rescue truck was at their location. Fortunately, the truck was not at the vendor’s location at the time of the fire. Every Monday night for more than two years we would hear Rescue 228 reported out of service. A committee was started to begin the process of specifying a new pumper for the company. In 1989 we placed the new pumper (1989 Mack CF) in service. This ended the days of riding on the tailboard of the trucks to the call.

The station number changed from 225 to 17 in the 1990’s as we joined the remainder of the county in using four digits to identify apparatus. The “mini” (1975 Dodge) was replaced in 1996 with a new four man cab truck that had fire and rescue capabilities. The rescue truck that was purchased in the 1960’s was getting tired. Another committee was appointed to specify a new rescue truck. The new rescue truck 1741 (1999 Freightliner) was placed into service in 1999. The old rescue truck became a specialty truck used for trench rescue. The EMS side also saw new vehicles purchased during this decade. We went from the traditional ambulance to a new International chassis. The ambulances were now trucks and had an air-ride suspension. The volume of ambulance calls forced the company to employ EMS staff. We could no longer rely on an all volunteer ambulance crew.

The new century brought some of the old and some new challenges to the organization. The vehicle fleet stabilized, membership was also fairly stable. We out grew the old station and it was decided to build a new station. The best location to build the station was at 1919 8th St, our home since 1949. For one year we were stationed at the Coolidge Building at 5th & Orth Sts, the former Municipal building.

No one was prepared for the events of September 11, 2001, when we were attacked by terrorists on our own soil. The members of Bethlehem Township Volunteer Fire Company wanted to help just as everyone across the nation wanted to help. Seventeen members responded to New York City the afternoon of September 11, 2001. Our members were staged at Fort Lee High School in New Jersey for the night, but they were sent to ground zero on the morning of September 12th. Although our services were not utilized in New York, our team was proud to be there to offer aid. The fire company had never seen the type of widespread support seen during the months following September 11th. Another major disaster occurred in 2005 when a hurricane named Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. One of our ambulances was deployed to help in the New Orleans region as part of the strike team from the Eastern PA EMS Council.

Our services continue to expand as does the Township. For this reason we purchased the house and property next door to the station to allow for expansion. January 1, 2011 we moved into the new wing of the station. This new wing will allow us to grow for many years to come. We made it a classic fire station by adding a pole from the second floor to the truck bay. Our fleet has grown over the years and now includes 2 pumpers, a heavy rescue, a brush/rescue truck, 2 pick-up trucks that can tow the boat, 4 wheeler and/or gator, a command vehicle and an operations vehicle. We also have 6 advanced life support ambulances and the Medic 1 truck. The building has a training room, communications room, sleeping quarters, office space and meeting rooms.

It is amazing how the organization has grown over the years from a small group of Civil Defense Wardens to the multifaceted organization that exists today.

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