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'Fireman Jack' spent his life serving others

December 07, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Jackson H. Gerhart, a Franklin County volunteer firefighter who died Sunday at York (Pa.) Hospital, spent his life in service to others, fellow firefighters said Monday.

Gerhart, 65, of Shippensburg, Pa., never regained consciousness after he was found lying near a firetruck at a house fire at 541 E. Washington St. in Chambersburg on the morning of Nov. 30.

No one saw what happened to Gerhart, whether he fell off the truck while trying to remove a hose or if he was not on the truck and simply collapsed and fell to the ground, his brother, Charles Gerhart of Chambersburg, said Monday.

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"There were no witnesses," he said.

Gerhart was flown to York Hospital, where he died Sunday surrounded by his family, his brother said.

Charles Gerhart said he did not know the cause of his brother's death.

Michael Weimer, assistant chief of the Cumberland Valley Hose Co. in Shippensburg, one of several area fire departments to which Jackson Gerhart belonged, said in prepared remarks that Gerhart's death will "impact the entire fire service. He dedicated his life to the service of others. Cumberland Valley Hose Co. is proud to have 'Fireman Jack' hang his gear in our house."

Weimer said Gerhart spearheaded many projects in the department, including the redesign of the Fallen Members Memorial Box.

"He said he wanted to make it presentable and something we're proud of," Weimer said.

Gerhart's will be the first name in the new box, Weimer said.

Gerhart helped with the department's bingo nights and always was willing to help young firefighters with their careers.

He worked as a paid firefighter with the Washington, D.C., Fire Department for 32 years. He lived in several Washington suburbs, his brother said.

He retired in 1994 and returned to Franklin County, said Brad Myers, spokesman for Cumberland Valley Hose Co.

"He was one of the nicest men you could ever meet," said William Dubbs, assistant chief of Cumberland Valley. "He'd do anything for anyone and never ask anything in return."

Myers said Gerhart's body will be carried by the Washington, D.C., firetruck that he served on when he worked for that department.

"Jackson 'Jack' Gerhart died as he lived ... serving others," his former fellow firefighters in Washington said in a press release.

Gerhart was a member of the Chambersburg Fire Department in the early 1960s. He was also a volunteer with the Junior Hose and Truck Co. and the West End Volunteer Fire Co. in Shippensburg.

Gerhart's love for firefighting and all that goes with it started when he was a teenager, Myers said.

Cumberland Valley Hose Co. put its 1937 Ward LaFrance pumper up for sale on sealed bids in 1959 after the unit had been in service for 22 years.

Gerhart, only 19 at the time, bought the firetruck, Myers said.

"He owned it for a couple of years, then sold it to the New Franklin Fire Department. It was their first fire engine," he said.

It was later sold to a private individual. In the mid-1970s, the Ward LaFrance Co. bought the truck back, restored it and had it repainted lime green to reflect a new safety color for firefighting equipment in those days, Myers said.

The truck was sold to a fire department in Mount Horeb, Wis., Myers said.

Gerhart tracked it down, found out it was available and suggested to the members of his own department that they buy it back.

Myers said the truck was painted brown and tan when it was in service with the Cumberland Valley Hose Co.

"We're going to get it repainted and relettered," Myers said of the truck. "It's good to get part of our history back."

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