On June 17 and 18, Neptune Fire Company of Richland will host the 100th annual Lebanon County Firefighters Convention and Parade, celebrating the firefighters and companies that serve communities in the Lebanon Valley.
Every year since 1922, the convention has brought together the community fire companies that make up the Lebanon County Firefighters Association. In the vast majority of rural communities, these companies are staffed entirely by volunteers, and many have been active for over a century.
It’s this proud legacy that will be celebrated in June.
“We’re trying to have an all-time convention,” said Neptune Fire Chief Stan Smith in a phone interview with LebTown. “We want to draw in old antiques and the people who still have marching units.”
Smith recalled the long firefighter parades of past state conventions and City of Lebanon events.
The convention and parade will be preceded by a memorial service at 7 p.m. Friday, June 17, at Richland Church of the Brethren at 215 S. Race St. The monthly Firefighters Association meeting will be held on the morning of June 18, and the parade itself will begin at 1 p.m. at Neptune Fire Hall, 20 E. Main St.
Adding to the pomp of the proceedings is $34,900 in prize money that will be awarded to parade participants by judges, a figure “unheard of” for the average firefighters parade, according to Smith.
As in prior years, participants will be placed for their showmanship in categories including Best Appearing and Equipped Engine and Best Appearing Marching Unit, as well as antique categories such as Best Appearing Horse-Drawn Unit and Motorized Antique.
Companies and organizations who wish to participate should register before June 1 through the form linked here and included at the end of the article. The full list of prize categories is included on the form.
Food trucks will be set up for the parade throughout the day, and a DJ will entertain while judges prepare to announce their decisions after the parade. Following that, convention organizers plan to stage a fireworks display at the old Richland Carnival Grounds at Memorial Drive and East Linden Street.
Also available at the event is the convention book, which will include the history of the Fireman’s Association and the Neptune Fire Company. Each parade participant will receive a book and copies will also be available for sale on June 18.
Neptune Fire Company
This event will be a special honor for the Neptune Fire Company, which is now entering its 115th year of operation. “We had the very first convention, we had the 50th anniversary, and that’s why we decided to have the 100th,” Smith explained.
Founded in 1907 with 51 charter members and originally housed in a building along Park Street, the company relocated in 1922 to a new hall at 20 E. Main St., which is still in use. As such, the event will also double as a 100th anniversary of the Neptune Fire Hall.
Over the decades, the hall has served as a makeshift community hub, at various times housing a movie theater and library.
Today, Neptune counts around 25 active firefighters on its roster, with additional staff involved in administrative and office work. The company is all-volunteer and it tends to imprint a lasting loyalty in its members – Smith himself joined in 1984 and represents one of four Smith generations involved in the firefighting practice.
According to Smith, the “Neptune” name is a bit of a mystery, though he suggested that it may refer to the Roman sea god Neptune’s command over water.
Smith hopes that the convention will be one to remember. As volunteer fire companies in Pennsylvania and elsewhere face staffing problems and budgetary issues, the future of many companies in the state is unknown. The Lebanon County Firefighters Association currently lists 48 local fire companies on its website, though recent developments such as the Union Hose and Cleona merger may not be included yet.
“We’ve been planning this for five years,” Smith said. “Hopefully we have a good event and people remember it.
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