COAL RUN — Times have changed, the tide has turned.
The local volunteer fire brigades suddenly are thriving again.
Through the 20th century, the teeming coal mine towns of Young Township maintained four independent community volunteer fire departments.
The townspeople of Coal Run, Iselin, McIntyre and West Lebanon for decades housed and maintained their own fleets of firetrucks and responded to emergencies with their own battalions of firefighters.
Young Township tightened up in the late 1980s and ’90s when Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal Co. started closing mines, laying off workers and selling its properties to Consol Energy. Money and population shrank, forcing the fire departments into mergers after the turn of the 21st century. Consolidation produced the Coal Run/McIntyre and the Iselin/West Lebanon fire companies, which merged their rosters and streamlined their resources to stay in operation.
But suddenly there’s been growth in the ranks and an opportunity to move all their equipment to a single location.
Thus the Coal Run/McIntyre fire company plans to break ground Saturday for construction of a new, larger station on the grounds of the current community fire hall.
“We bought the former coal company store from Kovalchick in 1968. That’s what we used for a garage for our trucks,” said David Galinac, president of the Coal Run/McIntyre unit.
To put the trucks under roof, the fire company excavated the basement to fit one vehicle and in 1997 added a wing to the structure to house the others.
That kept the vehicles warm in winter and ready to respond.
If only they had the guys, Galinac said.
“In 2001, Coal Run and McIntyre merged. The reason was that manpower was so low. The two towns were close together but in one, we only had 10 firefighters,” he explained.
Funding also was behind the merger. The companies found ways to end duplicate expenses.
“It was such a strain on the budget. The companies could not prosper,” Galinac said.
As a single company, the units cut their bills and made fundraising a little easier: “We had two towns to grab funds from.”
Over the last 18 years, the company has modernized its fleet in a smart way, but “we put the cart before the horse,” Galinac said. “We had to upgrade our firetrucks but we didn’t have additional housing.”
As a result, two firetrucks — one donated from Rockwood, N.Y., and the other purchased for a song — have been housed in a pole barn building that Galinac uses as a workshop for his business.
“I agreed to house it in my place until we figure out what to do with the buildings,” he said.
What to do, they decided, is this: Construct a new garage to house only the trucks on the fire company grounds in McIntyre. Keep the current building, which is recognized as a piece of local history, fix it as needed and promote it as an event hall.
One dream is to convert the current fire station bays into an ambulance station. Young Township communities’ nearest EMS services are Citizens’ in Indiana and LifeStat in Saltsburg, each quite a haul.
“We need to have a new fire hall to be centrally organized,” Galinac said. “Not in a structure that’s 100 years old or more. But it is in good shape and we plan on keeping it for rent for showers, parties. We have had this hall on top of the fire station.
“It is an asset yet,” he said. “To tear it down would be a waste of money. And it has the history.”
Coal Run/McIntyre is in the enviable position of having eight firetrucks in all, one of the largest fleets in Indiana County, plus a membership roster of 55 firefighters.
“Even as two companies, we never had that,” Galinac said.
The price tag is estimated at $300,000. Galinac said the company is filing for a low-interest loan, and has been told that it wouldn’t be eligible for grant money until it has committed to borrowing funds, too.
It also means a lot of bingo games and hoagie sales, but Galinac — who has served 46 years with the department including 20-some as fire chief — said Young Township communities have readily supported the fire service because the fire company has been there for people.
“We’ve had families with no money to bury loved ones,” he said. “So we held spaghetti dinners and raised money to help bury them. Our benefits have raised enough money to pay for funerals. A lot of community people around here support things like this. We’re overwhelmed sometimes by their generosity.”
Building crews are expected on site by the first of December. Completion is scheduled for a few months later, Galinac said.
“We are hopeful to be in there in the spring of 2020 and have a grand opening for our community,” he said.
“But you have to grow, and we are growing. You can’t be stagnant. We have to take a chance and build this building.”