By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
TRIBES HILL -- The volunteer fire department on Mohawk Drive is one of the few things residents of the small hamlet can collectively call their own.
Besides the post office, the fire station on Mohawk Drive is the only public building in Tribes Hill, and for 100 years it has provided the residents with a sense of safety and security.
"The fire department is the center of the community," Fire Captain Wesley Jones said. "It's a comfort for people to have it here."
To celebrate its 100th anniversary, the Fire Department is hosting an all-day celebration June 14 at the fire station.
However Jones said the event is more about giving back to the community, which had a hand in starting the department so many years ago.
It officially began in November 1913, when a group of residents felt that there should be some type of fire protection in the hamlet and held a meeting to organize the fire department. Eventually, a committee was elected, a campaign was started and the first fire engine -- a LaFrance hand drawn chemical extinguisher -- was purchased and delivered in the winter of 1914.
The engine was far different than the trucks of today. The LaFrance was a two-wheel cart that could be pulled by two men. If the run to the fire was longer, drag ropes were pulled out and multiple people pulled the engine. On the cart was also mounted a 45-gallon drum with a hose container on top. A wheel on the back of the tank enabled someone to turn the tank over to discharge it.
That same year, the fire department rented the Pettengill Box Shop, which was located near the corner of Stone Church Road and Mohawk Drive. The department was also incorporated as the Tribes Hill Fire Department.
During the 1920s, the fire department added two more fire apparatuses and built the second fire house location in the east end of town on the Manchester property. The department also bought their first sirens which consisted of a small red box on the side of the siren with a glass in the door. If someone need to turn in an alarm, they would break the glass and pull down the lever.
As time passed the hamlet grew and so did the fire department. New and modern equipment was added and around 1942, the modern fire house was built and the Manchester property was sold. The Mohawk Drive building was expanded in the 1960s and further expanded in the 1990s.
Fire Department members John Miller and Chuck Newkirk who have been with the department for 68 and 59 years respectively, have seen the fire department change over the years.
They have also had a hand in putting out some significant fires -- including the blaze at the Rolling Hills Country Club in Fort Johnson, several barn fires and a former hotel.
However for Newkirk, a car fire that took the lives of 10 youths still stands out in his mind.
"It was a meeting night and I had just left the fire department when the siren went off. I was in the fire truck heading in that direction when I got the call," Newkirk said. "The kid had a hit tree in a station wagon with nine other kids. By the time I got there the car was completely ablaze and the kids had died. Every fire is bad, but that was one of the worst."
Tribes Hill Fire Chief Glenn Newkirk, who has been with the fire department for 22 years, said that the biggest change has been the training requirements for the department.
"When I first started the department was more casual. It has become a lot more serious since then," he said. "However we have developed pride because it made us better."
A disappointing change, he said, has been the decline in the membership. Today the department has about 30 active members, which is lower than past years. Yet the department carries on, providing the services that it has over the century.
"The community has stayed together enough to keep the department viable," the chief said.
It is this history that the department will commemorate June 14 with a celebration from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The event will feature food and craft vendors, car show, a dunking booth, an ice cream social, musical entertainment and fireworks.
A ceremony will be held at 1 p.m. to recognize active members and mutual aid partners, as well as Montgomery County emergency services, GAVAC, the Sheriffs Department and County Office of Emergency Management.
"This is more of a community celebration," Jones said. "The whole day is about opening the doors and giving back to the community."