Prior to 1969, the only organized fire protection in Southeast Highland County was water-based fire extinguishers hung on telephone poles in Sinking Spring. Now, the Brushcreek Township Fire Department, which last week celebrated its 50th anniversary, is on the job.
According to a history of the volunteer department written by Terri Matheney, wife of Chief Mike Matheney, the department began in 1969 when a group of men from the township recognized the need for a local fire department and decided to organize as volunteers. The first meeting of the group, according to Terri Matheney, was held at the old octagonal schoolhouse in Sinking Spring.
In the early years of the department, there were approximately 30 active members, according to Terri Matheney. Now, there are only seven. The department is searching for new volunteers, specifically “youngsters,” as the chief put it.
“If we could get some youngsters in there to give some of the older guys a break, we can pass on what we’ve learned before we don’t have a little fire department anymore,” Mike Matheney said. “We’d like to get some new blood in the fire department.”
To inquire about volunteering, contact the fire station at 937-588-3023 and leave a message, Terri Matheney said.
According to Terri Matheney’s history of the department, the first truck was a 1953 model housed in a garage at the school in Sinking Spring. The annual budget was $1,800, so to supplement a sparse income, volunteers organized auctions of donated goods as fundraisers.
The early auctions were held in the Sinking Spring school gymnasium, according to Terri Mathaney, and in 1971, the Brushcreek Ladies Auxiliary was organized to support the firefighters.
“The community responded whole-heartedly in support of their new fire department,” she said.
And it still does, according to Mike Matheney. An auction and dinner held Saturday continued the tradition of Brushcreek community members supporting their local fire department.
“We could never have lasted this long without the community’s help and support,” Mike Matheney said. “We had a great response from the people Saturday at our annual auction.”
As the department gathered more trucks and equipment, the group quickly outgrew the school garage, which could accommodate only one truck, according to Terri Matheney.
In 1976, Doris Zile McElwee donated land on Chestnut and Washington streets in Sinking Spring for a new fire house.
Firefighters themselves, along with community members, worked together to clear and level the land in preparation for construction.
“Numerous individuals donated time and equipment to make this happen,” Terri Matheney said.
Rube Tong, the then-fire chief’s father, donated bulldozing work on the lot, and the building was finished in 1976. Roy Puckett, one of the Brushcreek Township trustees at the time, was “very instrumental” in bringing the facility to fruition, Terri Matheney said.
The first new truck the department purchased was a 1980 pumper/tanker with a cab and chassis ordered from the Hillsboro Auto Co. in Hillsboro, according to Terri Matheney.
An additional station was built in 1999 in Carmel on the northern end of Brushcreek Township, and grants were written and awarded in later years for a 2010 fire engine and again in 2013 for a new tanker.
Much has changed for the department in the last 50 years, Terri Matheney said. Emergency calls used to be made on a “fire bar,” which was forwarded to firefighters’ home phones. That method was later replaced by hand-held radios.
Currently, emergency calls are dispatched through apps on personal smartphones via the Highland County Sheriff’s Office, Terri Matheney said.
“The most important and constant factor in the last 50 years has been the loyal and generous support from the citizens of the Brushcreek community,” she said. “Their support is greatly appreciated.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.