The Pottsville Fire Department “Looking Back” series actually began as an examination of specific fires as the anniversary dates of those fires approached. This started after much research for the Pottsville Firefighting book published by Mike Kitsock and I in 2004. The series then evolved into a more organized format in which past fires were detailed in 5 year increments back through the first recorded fire in Pottsville in 1830. Much credit for laying the groundwork has to be given to the late Joe Neary (Good Intent) and Bill Cerullo (American Hose). Through the short-lived Pottsville Fire Department Historical Commission of the early 1990’s, they began to organize the History of Fire Alarms. This was done largely through a company history book published in 1899 by the Good Intent Fire Company as well as the actual fire records of the City.
With that as a starting point, I then research individual fires through company records and, to a very large extent, through period newspapers via microfilm. Dave Derbes and Dr. Pete Yasenchak of the Historical Society of Schuylkill County have been very helpful in identifying very old street names, city neighborhoods, and specific businesses. In addition to the facts related to the various fires, I also try to include anecdotal information that has been passed-down through the years as well.
The purpose of the series, in addition to serving as an outlet for my passion for fire service history, is to promote an appreciation of the challenges that the firefighters who have gone before us have faced. For today’s firefighters, the fires of the past can also serve as “teaching moments.” It is often the case that we get fires today in the same blocks, in the same neighborhoods, and, sometimes, in the very same buildings in which fires have occurred in years past. George Santayana has said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” By examining these fires, we can identify life safety concerns, water supply challenges, building construction features, and specific access and apparatus placement issues. What a great training tool – particularly in getting to know your “first due.” Hopefully you enjoy the series and glean some information from the past that may prove valuable on the fireground in the future.