A tragic fire that took the lives of five young men and destroyed four buildings at a cost of a quarter-million dollars led to the organization of the Waynesburg – Franklin Twp. Volunteer Fire Company.
The fire occurred early on the morning of December 23, 1925, as the town was looking forward to Christmas just two days later. The fact that the deaths of the five victims (trapped under a falling wall of one of the burned buildings) might have been prevented if a formally organized volunteer company had been in existence led to the first meeting of the present Waynesburg – Franklin Twp. Volunteer Fire Company on March 4, 1926.
The fire which led to the organization of the company destroyed the three story Downey House Hotel at the southwest corner of High and Washington Streets, the adjoining four-story Grossman Building and the adjoining one-story John T. Silveus Building. Embers from the inferno were blown by the wind a half block in to the former First Presbyterian Church on Church Street across from the east side of the courthouse and it, too was destroyed. The cupola of the courthouse just opposite the hotel was also destroyed, along with the wooden statue of General Nathaniel Greene for whom Greene County was named.
The five young men who gave their lives as martyrs to the cause of fire fighting and prevention for which the present company was founded were: Harvey Call, William Finch, Thurman Long, Joseph Rifenburg, and Victor Silveus. If there had been indifference as to the need of a volunteer fire department in Waynesburg before the fire, it vanished completely in the shock waves of death and destruction, which paralyzed the entire community for weeks after this holocaust.
By May 20, 1926, a formal organization had been completed with Marshall D. Wood as the town’s first Fire Chief. In less than six months after the 1925 fire, the company had bought its first fire truck, the now revered 1925 American-LaFrance pumper of which they have take such meticulous care that it is still in use today, along with other fine equipment purchased through the years.
Storms, flood, and other disasters find the volunteer firemen the first on the scene in Waynesburg and Franklin Township, as well as in all the other neighboring communities where unselfish men go through hours of training for fighting fire, giving first aid and all the other things the public depends on them to do.
There is no way of knowing the number of persons whose homes and property have been saved by their efficient and dedicated service at all hours of the day and night, in all extreme weather, on Sundays and holidays regardless of what television program they’d rather watch or what kind of sports event they’d rather have attended. Also, because of their training and equipment, fire company members have saved property owners untold thousands of dollars in lower insurance rates.
The company has earned the respect, in fact, the affection and appreciation of the community it has served so faithfully for over ninety years.