It was a group civic-minded men.
They lived in the 1870s and most or all were likely Irish Catholic. They were either immigrants or sons of immigrants.
They likely worked in the mines or performed manual labor.
They joined together and called themselves Hibernian Hook & Ladder Co. of Tamaqua. And they blazed a trail.
But they also left a trail of questions.
Three early units
To understand Hibernian H&L, one must first look at the earliest days of firefighting in Tamaqua.
Before the emergence of today's four fire companies, at least three very early units served the town during the 1800s. Of those, two companies can claim to be the town's oldest, something that makes the Tamaqua Fire Department unique.
According to records, Perseverance Fire Co. # 1 dates back to 1852 when the borough bought its first hand-drawn hose cart. The company began when town fathers saw the need for organized fire fighting. The single hose carriage was stored in a barn.
By 1875, the company acquired a steam fire engine drawn by hired horses and two hand-drawn hose carts, one with four wheels, the other two. At the time, the unit also boasted 1,500 feet of gum hose valued at $6,500. The fancy new equipment led to a revised name, the Perseverance Hose and Steam Fire Co.
The name would be changed again in 14 years. The unit eventually was reorganized as Citizens Fire Co. # 1, making CFC the fire company with the longest history in Tamaqua. Interestingly, many Citizens members belonged to an intellectual group called the Tamaqua Lyceum, a band of men who met to discuss and debate current events.
CFC has been steadfastly based at the same general location at the start of West Rowe Street in the heart of downtown.
But there was another early unit - Reliance Hook & Ladder Co., begun in the 1860s. The demise of Reliance in 1878 led to the creation of today's American Hose Co. in the same year, making American Hose the community's oldest firehouse by name.
The town of 5,800 looked to American Hose for protection. In September 1881, AHC appointed its own police force to do duty at fires by caring for furniture and other personal property carried from burning buildings.
The company also was responsible for watering the dirt streets.
On September 5, 1924, American Hose spawned the town's first ambulance committee, purchasing a Cadillac in October at a cost of $2,075.
So staunch and forthright were members that in 1897 they adopted a resolution saying they'd: "always be ready to sacrifice our life for that of others no matter what creed, color or race, all fellow man alike with courage and promptness in case of fire."
American Hose Co. #1 is housed in its 1885 building at 39 Mauch Chunk Street.
But while those two early companies were in the throes of development, another unit was up and running by the 1870s - Hibernian Hook & Ladder Co. And that company is cloaked in mystery because so little is known.
The legend of Hibernian H&L is supported by at least one document and several stories handed down through the years.
The Hibernian unit supposedly owned and operated a single hose reel drawn by a few men or a horse. According to lore, the hose reel broke loose one day while being pulled down a steep incline from the Dutch Hill section of the community. The reel was destroyed, essentially putting Hibernian out of business.
The Dutch Hill connection is particularly interesting. An old-timer by the name of Andy, now deceased, reportedly told members of the Tamaqua Fire Department that a garage or building located in that part of town contains a visible link to Hibernian Hook & Ladder. It is unclear if that link is a name or logo, or if it is written, painted or even engraved in or on part of a building, such as a cornerstone.
That report raises questions. Did Hibernian store their hose reel on Dutch Hill? Or did they perhaps conduct meetings there?
If so, that information appears to contradict a reliable source that corroborates Hibernian's existence.
The official publication of the 32nd Annual Convention of the Six-County Firemen's Association, hosted in Tamaqua, June 16-21, 1935, states: "In the early 70s, the Hibernian Hook & Ladder Company was organized and was located for a number of years in a building on the North side of Rowe Street near the present site of the Reading Station, but this company passed out of existence entirely."
Today's firefighters said their curiosity was piqued when they discovered the report about their firefighting ancestors.
"We saw the information when going through the program," notes Jason Hartz, captain, Citizens Fire Company. Hartz said members recently pored over documents stored inside the fire company's antique floor safe and learned about Hibernian.
CFC once shar