The historic Swarthmorean article hidden in the Feb 26 issue is from January 11, 1963 issue. Download the entire paper from this date and step back in Swarthmore time.
The fire horn is an enduring aural presence in the Swarthmore landscape – an icon that is both loved and (at times) loathed. But how did this strong and functional symbol come to be? We turned to the historic Swarthmoreans and other news media to piece together a brief history of the Swarthmore Firehorn. We have not found everything yet, but will continue to build this history and we invite you to help by adding your comments to this post (and be sure to include your source!)
- Since approximately 1952, Swarthmore fire horn has been an important part of the Swarthmore Volunteer Fire Company emergency alert system
From Dec 24, 1954 issue: “At 5.30 last Friday afternoon the fire horn sounded and volunteer members of the Swarthmore Fire Company all dashed to get the engines and rushed to the scene of trouble – all,. this Is, except Fire Chief John A. ‘Rumsey who just stayed at his home at 400 Vassar avenue. After all, that was the best place for him since that was the site of the fire. It seems Hurricane Hazel is still causing reverberations. Electrical wires, repaired temporarily after the storm damaged them, flashed in the street outside the Rumse,. home, apparently burning· out a transformer and sending current charges into the Rumsey house burning out oil burner motor and circulating pump motor on the heat”
- The Swarthmore firehorn has been used to signal important events:
From the Jan 25, 1957 issue: “Mothers’ Polio March: 7 O’Clock Fire Horn Will Mark Opening of 1957 Campaign Swarthmore’s fire horn which faithfully exercises twice daily, will get an extra fitting next Tuesday, January 29, as it touches off the Borough’s annual March on Polio. At 1 o’clock sharp, the blast will call forth well over 100 volunteers seeking contributions for the continuing ligbt against Pollo.”
From the Jan 25, 1963: MOTHERS MARCH ON TUESDAY Fire Horn To Initiate Annual Campaign
- The Swarthmore firehorn was part of a county-wide effort to automate fire alert systems. It had a rough start.
From the March 31, 1967 issue: “At 9 p.m. saturday firemen heard the first test of the fire horn activated by the new electronic system at Springfield ‘police station. Development of the system and the special room In which it is housed has required over six months’ work. The bells in firemen’s homes will be automatically rung along with the fire horn now. Fire Chief James Du·nn said he expects it wlll be about a week untll the proper spaclng of blasts can be adjusted so that codes indicating location of fire can be definitely interpreted.”
From the May 5, 1967 issue: “Swarthmore Fire Company is composed of men who have Volunteered to serve their community. Numerous tlmes In the past month they have been denied the rlght for which they have volunteered and thus the lives of Swarthmoreans have been endangered. At 1 a.m Monday morning a woman with two small children called In a fire alarm, fortunately it developed Into only a smoke scare-very fortunately–for as had happened times before, and once, since, the fire horn, (Activated by the Springfield police dispatcher), did not sound. Approximately 50% of the active lire men have bells In their homes which sound simultaneously with the horn-alerting those men who cannot assuredly hear the horn from theIr barnes. The remainder depend on the horn system-therefore, these men were unable to respond to the alarm-and the fire company was not operating at full capacity. Obviously, something must be done-elther Installing a new more competent system or transferrlng the dispatching system to Swarthmore so that at least the operator will know that the system Is not functionIng and can attempt another system of alarming the firemen. The horn can be sounded manually bY sending a policeman to the college power house where the horns are located but valuable time Is wasted. Prompt action could avert a terrible dlsaster.” Sincerely yours, Margaret A. Lasslat (Mrs. Raymond E.) Carol G. Reynolds (Mrs. Walter C.) “
From the Fri May 5, 1967 issue: “The Fire Company was called to Vertol plant, Morton at 8:30 p. m. Tuesday. Fortunately there didn’t seem to be a real fire, because for the second time In 43 hours the local fire horn failed to summon company members. A company spokesman said a few who had bells In their homes and heard them, responded and got the trucks out • At the early Monday smoke scare the horn never did sound, he said. At the Tuesday fire It sounded about 15 minutes late. Meanwhile an attempt was made to summon volunteers by clanging the ancient fire bell atop the firehouse, but not enough heard It In time to go out on the trucks. “
- Swarthmore repaired its aging fire horn in the late 1990s. But other communities had long ago converted to more modern emergency alert systems.
From April 9, 1997 Phila Inquirer: “Age has finally caught up to the borough’s ear-splitting fire horn, one of the few remaining of its type in the Philadelphia suburbs. Its familiar throaty blast, used to summon firefighters throughout the town, has been reduced to a sporadic cough of late, and the leggy brackets that fasten it atop a Swarthmore College roof are beginning to buckle. All of which brought officials of the Swarthmore Fire Company to a Borough Council meeting Monday night in search of money to upgrade the alarm system, which dates to 1952. Never mind that surrounding communities long ago converted to sirens or noiseless paging systems. Swarthmore likes its horn, which is easily audible from Baltimore Pike to Fairview Road, the borough’s north-south limits.Council members heard an appeal from Fire Company President Laurence Luder, but gulped when he estimated the cost of repairs at $11,000.“This is not a budgeted item,” Mayor G. Guy Smith said. “Where do we go for the money? Is there a grant or state funds available?” Discussion focused on the efficacy of repairing what Councilwoman Wendy M. Emrich characterized as an “almost obsolete system.” Councilman Mark J. Kuperberg suggested that the cost of installing a siren might be less expensive in the long run. The council authorized Borough Manager Jane C. Billings to get estimates for repairing the horn and for installing alternative alarms and also to search out funding sources.