140 years of always ending on a high note at Engine 28

The celebration featured free food such as hot dogs, which were donated by Dietz and Watson, and hamburgers, which were donated by Wilson’s Meats. ShopRite donated bottled water and a cake.

(Top row) Andy Brown, Lt. Gerry Kershaw, FF Dennis Wolf and Captain Ron Shousky (bottom row) Lt. George Cooper, FF Mike Sortino, FF Vershawn Brown, retired Lt. Bill Rosemiller, retired Lt. Steve Archibald (kneeling), FF Joe Holt, FF William Donovan, Comm. Adam Thiel, Deputy Comm. Gary Loesch, FF Jim Paris, Lt. Brandon Wilson, FF Dave Elko, FF Josh Evans, FF Shawn McIhenny, FF Charlie Evans.

Port Richmond residents made their way over to the Engine 28 Firehouse Saturday afternoon for a celebration of the station’s 140 continuous years of service.

“It’s been an incredible turnout today, and I’m so glad that the people realize what [the firemen] do for our community because the firemen are like the red-headed stepchildren,” said Port Richmond on Patrol and Civic President Ken Paul, who was one of the main organizers of the event. “The police are at the forefront of everything. Everybody recognizes them and you always forget about the firemen. So today is their day. It’s all about them. I’m really happy for them and I’m glad that we got to do what we did for them.”

The event featured free food such as hot dogs, which were donated by Dietz and Watson, and hamburgers, which were donated by Wilson’s Meats. ShopRite donated bottled water and a cake. Parents had the opportunity to enter raffles, where beer, lottery tickets and a TV were raffled off as their children played on the antique fire trucks parked nearby.

The station was incorporated by the city in 1878, according to the station’s captain Ron Shousky, at its original location at the corner of Belgrade and Clearfield streets. The station stayed there for 100 years until it was moved in 1978 to its present location at the corner of Miller and Ontario streets to accommodate the larger size of the fire engines. The old location at Belgrade and Clearfield is the Frank Rizzo Police Athletic League Center.

In the 140 years the station has been around, Engine 28 has had five fatalities in the line of duty. Firefighter Thomas Vaughn died on March 13, 1904, firefighter William J. Robinson died on Jan. 15, 1905, firefighter Richard F. Bevine died on July 29, 1999, and — most recently — both firefighter Rey Rubio and Capt. John Taylor died fighting the same house fire on the same day; Aug. 20, 2004. It was a day that many of the firefighters at Engine 28 past and present remember very well even to this day.

Firefighter Charlie Evans, who was off duty at the time of the fire, was sitting outside of a Dunkin Donuts drinking a coffee and eating a doughnut with a friend when he saw smoke billowing toward the Dunkin’ Donuts.

“Being a fireman, I came out to look, and there was heavy smoke,” he said. “So I ran down the street, and I … saw [Engine] 28 sirens. I heard them coming down. There was nothing I could do at that point because I was off duty. And some guys went down in the basement, and I was just standing there watching it.”

The next thing he knew, some of the firefighters were in a panic. Soon after, there were two bodies being taken out of the building. It was Rubio and Taylor.

“This kept me up at night, and I’m not even kidding you, but they don’t really know what happened,” said retired Lt. Steve Archibald about Taylor and Rubio’s death. “They had their airpacks on, but they were unconscious when they ran out of air. But they weren’t burned. So they didn’t die through burning, but something knocked them out because they had their airpacks on.”

Archibald said that it’s second nature to take off your airpack if it runs out of air. That both Taylor and Rubio had their airpacks on when they were found meant that something had knocked them unconscious prior to their airpacks running out. Eventually, their airpacks did run out of air while they were unconscious, he said, causing them to asphyxiate.

But in the wake of the deaths of Taylor and Rubio, the Port Richmond community did what it did best. It rallied from behind to support its local firehouse.

“After the captain was killed, the community of Port Richmond really did an outpouring of support,” said Archibald. “We were getting cards, and before we knew it, we had a couple thousand dollars.”

According to Archibald, both the Rubio and Taylor families were well off financially, and didn’t really need the community’s donations.

“So all this money came in, [and] we were just kicking it around ideas about what we were going to do with it and somehow — I don’t even know where it came from — we got the idea of doing a memorial.”

Archibald spearheaded the project, but he didn’t do it alone. Union bricklayers spent a weekend laying down all of the brickwork for the memorial, and the iron fencing surrounding it was fabricated by local companies. A variety of local organizations, businesses and residents donated time and money to help with the project, and as a result it was unveiled to the public on Aug. 20, 2005 — exactly one year after Taylor and Rubio’s death. So much money was donated, the entire memorial was done under budget.

“With the money we had left over, we actually had a Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner for [needy] families in the local community just to get rid of the money,” said retired Lt. Bill Rosemiller.

The rallying of support for the memorial wasn’t unlike the rallying of support for Engine 28 displayed on Saturday afternoon. The key difference being, of course, that this time it was a celebration, not a mourning.

“It humbled the guys who served here because we’re not used to any of this,” said Shousky. “It’s a thankless job. … It’s overwhelming to see what the neighborhood did for this firehouse.”