In 1945, several fires occurred in the Wilmington Manor Area which included a plane crash in Biggs Field, now known as Penn Acres, and a house fire on East Grant Avenue that caused considerable damage. These fires made the citizens start thinking about a fire company of their own, which began with members of the Lions Club. In November of 1945, they announced a public meeting at the gun club on Basin Road (where the George Read School now stands) to discuss formation of a fire department. The Lions Club donated the first $10 toward the treasury for the new volunteers.
The first official meeting of the new group was called to order by the Acting Chairman J.B. Roy on November 13, 1945, at the home of Edgar Deese. The twelve men who attended this meeting elected temporary officers among themselves and planned fund raising activities. They immediately printed handbills to recruit new members and encouraged formation of the Ladies Auxiliary.
The meetings in November and December of 1945 continued to be held at the Gun Club. Unfortunately, the only method of heating was a fireplace. The minutes of one meeting noted that the men were going to have to start bringing their own logs or have meetings at private homes to keep warm while trying to plan their new department. They decided to meet in a member’s home and did so until the first firehouse was built.
On March 19, 1946, their first official officers were elected. They consisted of J.B. Roy, President; M.J. Gray, Vice President; H.M. Levitz, Treasurer; G.C. Hinrichs, Recording Secretary; M.V. Love, Financial Secretary. Members of the Board of Directors included Messrs. Russell, Moore, David and Francisco. By the following month, the membership had grown to fifty-one firefighters, but of this number only about fifteen were active. Fourteen members voted to purchase a 1928 U.S. Fire Truck for $700. The terms of the purchase consisted of a $200 down payment and the remaining in monthly installments. The truck was delivered at the end of May and taken to a barn owned by Mary Biggs where the firemen could refurbish it. A 330 gallon water tank was purchased for $105.00. At the next meeting, the fire company realized that they needed to elect officers. Officers were elected the following meeting.
M. Gray was elected Chief; C. Simpers as First Assistant Chief; C. Russell as Chief Engineer; G. Hinrichs as Assistant Engineer and V. Love as Fire Recorder. That same month, the New Castle Commons loaned a plot of ground for the purpose of building a new firehouse. The ground was located on Roosevelt Avenue where Penn Acres and Wilmington Manor now join. The lot was 100 feet by 100 feet and the building was 24 feet by 30 feet. A building committee submitted plans which were approved for an estimated one thousand dollar construction budget.
The firemen went to work raising money. Fundraising activities included raffling and selling a radio, washing machine, and baseball pools, as well as coordinating a carnival. Work was completed on the fire truck and it was moved to temporary quarters at Hinrichs Atlantic Service Station at Basin Road. Chief Gray started a program of fire drills and training for the new firemen.
The newly organized fire company applied for membership in the New Castle County Volunteer Firemen’s Association in September of 1946. Unfortunately, the membership was denied due to lack of specified equipment. Aetna Hose Hook and Ladder Company of Newark learned of this information and graciously donated the needed equipment to the Wilmington Manor Department. The Aetna Hose Hook and Ladder Company is therefore considered Wilmington Manor’s Father Company.
On October 17, 1946, the company responded to its first alarm involving a TWA constellation crash that caught fire in a wheat field at Hares Corner. The people aboard the plane escaped without injury and, with the assistance of neighboring companies, the fire was extinguished after several hours.
In January of 1947, the men borrowed $1,000.00 to purchase additional equipment and make some repairs to the truck. That same month, they were called to St. Georges Bridge for assistance on two house fires. The temperature was sub-zero that night. Even though the firemen were nearly frozen by the time they arrived at the fire (due to riding in their open cab fire truck without a windshield), they helped cut holes in the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and drafted water to help fight the fires. Needless to say, one of the first things they did with some of their borrowed money was install a windshield on the fire truck.
The company had ten fires in April of 1947 - the record number up to that time. The largest of the ten was the Howard Johnson Restaurant at Hares Corner. It took twelve hours to put out the fire, mostly because of lack of available water. The old 1928 U.S. Pumper made over 100 trips shuttling water from the only hydrant in the area, which was located at Basin Road, back to the fire. During one of the trips, a piston went bad in the motor. The truck was taken back to the firehouse, the piston replaced, and it resumed its shuttling of water. This was Wilmington Manor's first general alarm fire. In June of the same year, the Wilmington Manor firemen met with the Lions Club and Civic Association to discuss installation of fire hydrants and paved streets. Due to information on increased plane traffic, the men began training in aircraft fires. Drills were held at the New Castle County Air Base.
At the first meeting in September, the firemen decided to purchase a tanker truck because of the lack of fire hydrants in the community. A 1934 Auto Car was purchased for $1,186.00 from the Atlantic Refining Company. Shortly after the truck was put into service, it was called to a fire involving a state police car in the West side of Wilmington. While in transit, the wooden platform (backstep) that the firemen were standing on broke causing the firemen to fall on the unpaved road. This delayed their response time. Luckily, no one was hurt. What was left of the wooden platform was replaced by steel plates which were obtained from material discarded during the repair of the South Market Street Bridge in Wilmington.
The old U.S. was in dire need of some repairs, but even after they were completed, the truck was slow and still didn’t run very well. While they were responding to a fire in June of 1948, a boy on a bicycle caught up with them to ask where the fire was. This incident proved to the firemen that they definitely needed a new truck.
The company was growing and steadily progressing. By 1949, there were 85 members. One of the biggest problems facing them was access to DuPont Highway, a block from the firehouse through a residential section. The firemen started thinking about a larger building in a more appropriate location. A committee located a piece of ground at the corner of DuPont Highway and East Jackson Avenue for $2,086.68. Plans for the new 30’ X 60’ building, which would cost $7,500.00, were drawn up. Construction started in the spring of 1950. Fire hydrants were installed and streets were paved at the same time. The first meeting was held in the new firehouse on January 2, 1951. On the following Sunday, the trucks were moved from the old firehouse to the new one. Nine grass fires were extinguished during the transfer. The remaining part of the year, the men were busy on their annual donation drive, finishing the interior of the new firehouse, baseball games, meetings and answering the ever increasing number of fire alarms due to the growth of the area.
Some of the calls answered by the firemen included an explosion at Bellanca Aircraft Corporation, a man trapped in an 8 foot cave-in, and a collision of two oil tankers near Ready Island which caused a violent explosion and fire at 2 AM on Christmas Eve. The oil tanker collision caused a quarter of a million dollars in damage and luggage plant loss, resulting in the firemen remaining on duty until early Christmas morning. It was a Wilmington Manor fireman that was appointed by the Governor of Delaware as the first Fire Marshall in the state.
As the firemen continued to fight spectacular fires, which included the New Castle Farmers Market, lumber yards, barn fires, train wrecks and more plane crashes, one fire brought the harsh realities of being a fireman home to them all. The Halby Chemical Warehouse fire in 1958 took the life of a volunteer fireman from Holloway Terrace. Even though he was not a member of Wilmington Manor, all of the firemen were stunned at the enormity of the dangers they faced and saddened by the loss of someone who had shared their fellowship. Shortly after that, the firemen answered a 3 AM alarm in Chelsea Estates. Considerable damage was done, but even though the house could be occupied, it was without heat, water and electricity. Firemen from various trades were able to restore all the service temporarily until proper repairs could be made.
In 1963, the Eastern Seaboard had one of the worst droughts in years. Fields and woods always seemed to be on fire. The combinations of dry weather, carelessness and outdoor burning caused the loss of several homes and buildings, keeping Wilmington Manor firemen busy. That summer, many firemen developed the habit of arriving at the firehouse at about 10 AM. They knew that the calls would start coming in - and they did.
From 1963 to present, a lifetime of more memories and stories have originated from the members and Officers of Wilmington Manor Volunteer Fire Company. From the inception of Wilmington Manor until now, the company has evolved from a handful of men with a second-hand fire truck to a well-organized group of trained volunteers that have the use of advanced technology and apparatus. Its members and Officers continue to seek advanced training, technology, and skills to keep the surrounding communities safe.