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Vandergrift VFD No. 1 celebrates 125th anniversary with games, parade and food

An event more than a century in the making took place in Vandergrift Saturday.

Borough officials, volunteers and firefighters from various parts of the state came together for the 125th anniversary of the George G. McMurtry Fire Department, also noted as Vangergrift Volunteer Fire Dept. No. 1.

“It’s meant to be a celebration of all things firefighter,” said Alexandra Berger, member and event co-coordinator. “I was so nervous this morning. I woke up and I didn’t know what was going to happen. Whether people were going to dance or show up with extra, and they showed up with extra.

“I was pleasantly surprised and I want to cry because to see this all come to fruition means a lot. It was a lot of work to do this.”

The celebration took 13 months to plan as the committee reached out to businesses and fire departments seeking participation and donations.

Chief Randy Dunmire said the department’s success rests on its members’ dedication and willingness to serve the community.

“Seeing the end result when we go out on fires and rescues, we see that we’re helping people,” Dunmire said. “We’re helping save their property and save their lives in a vehicle accident.

“I was here for the 100th anniversary back in 1997. To see this much participation with our members as well as the community is overwhelming. We had a pretty big celebration (at that time). This one here, they have outdone that one.”

Dunmire has been with the department for 46 years, including the past six as chief.

Fire trucks from more than a dozen companies rolled through town as part of the celebration’s opening parade. Other participants included scout troops, Shriners and other local organizations.

Major Lenny Collini was somewhere in the middle of it.

“This is what Vandergrift needs,” Collini said. “It needs an awesome thing like this. It brings people out to enjoy the borough itself. People care about the community. They’re here and 125 years, my hat goes off to the fire department. That’s a longevity that you can’t (deny). It’s good stuff. More people in our community need to support our fire departments.”

Fire trucks in the parade were judged with $100 going to winners in various categories.

Hyde Park won for best pumper, Leechburg for best aerial and oldest apparatus, Slickville for best rescue and Kiski Township for best tanker.

About 10 food trucks dotted the landscape of Franklin Park across from the station.

The bands 90 Second Knock Out and AmberAlexis were scheduled to perform into the evening.

There were 16 teams in the Battle of the Barrel competition.

Firefighters from Penfield, Clearfield County made the near two-hour trek to compete. It was their first time in Vandergrift.

“We’ve been doing this for about 30 years, and whenever we see a battle we like to go,” Capt. Tom Olewnick said. “We enjoy doing it and meeting new people. We’ve traveled all over the state doing it. It’s a very nice celebration, nice park over there with the food trucks and everything and a good battle. Lots of good teams.”

A brunch for life members and active firefighters is planned for Sunday.

Members Thomas Schaeffer and John Wallace were expected to be honored at the brunch for their 50 years of service to the borough.

brief history

The department’s first chief was George Breig, elected in 1899.

Original fire fighting equipment included one hose reel, 300 feet of hose and a hook-and-ladder wagon, purchased by the company in 1902.

Early meetings were held in the WG Young drug store until mid-1898, and then, in the reading room of the Casino Theatre.

The department at one point about 100 members. It is down to about 50 including at least 15 life-members or those with a minimum 20 years of service.

Its oldest vehicle, a 1925 Ahrens Fox 4-piston positive displacement pump, was on display at the anniversary.

“We need to get more young people in the fire service because the old ones won’t be around forever,” said fireman James Williams III. “Every department in the valley needs members.”

Anyone who wants to learn more about the department can email

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, or via Twitter .

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