Jul 02

Remembering Chief James Cutchall 40 years later

Chief James Cutchall responded to the July 2, 1977 fire alarm as he had a hundred times before, arriving on the scene first to direct incoming fire apparatus from the Fayetteville, Pennsylvania Volunteer Fire Department.

Within minutes, the 33-year-old Chief lay mortally wounded from a sniper’s bullet, shot even as he radioed the Franklin County Communications Center with an initial report of a working fire and injured civilian.

Wagon 7-1, Fayetteville’s first due engine, followed Chief Cutchall up the dirt road leading to the burning cabin and was greeted by a barrage of bullets which pierced the windshield and cab, wounding the driver, Deputy Chief Robert Monn, and 18-year-old firefighter Scott Riechenbach as they raced for cover.

One of the men on board wagon 7-1 shouted “the Chief’s down” and several firefighters ran through the continuing gunfire to drag Chief Cutchall to safety and began administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. A Fayetteville Volunteer Fire Department ambulance rushed him to the hospital as the EMT-A’s continued resuscitation techniques. However, Chief Cutchall died at the hospital.

So unfolded the tragic, untimely death of a man described by one of his peers as “one of the most outstanding fire chiefs in the nation”. Close personal and professional friend Donald D. Flinn, General Manager of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, described Cutchall’s department programs as “model for the volunteer service”.

Crawford Wiestling, former chief of the neighboring Shippensburg West End Fire and Rescue Company, and the man who assumed command of the scene after Cutchall’s injury, explained, “he lived, breathed, slept and ate firefighting”.

Chief Wiestling perhaps described Cutchall best with these words: “He would refuse to sit still. He always wanted new ideas. Stagnation meant defeat to him. He would refuse to pause or say, ‘I’ve done my job’. He always used one saying in his speeches: ‘To be a volunteer firefighter and make an error is human, to be a volunteer firefighter and worry about those errors is compassion, to be a volunteer firefighter and do something about those errors is professionalism.’”

Under Cutchall’s four year reign as Chief, the Fayetteville Volunteer Fire Department became the first volunteer company within the region to adopt documented training standards, initiate a “bunk-in” program to assure immediate nighttime response, develop extensive pre-planning procedures for its 25-square mile first due area, and use modern, diesel-powered apparatus painted high visibility lime yellow. A capital improvements program, including the addition of five pieces of apparatus and a $150,000 building renovation, also was completed.

Women have assumed an important role within the Department riding fire, rescue and ambulance vehicles as active members. Junior membership and scholarship programs begun by Cutchall have provided a training ground for future firefighters. Many of these programs were outlined by the Chief in an article appearing in the July 1976 issue of Fire Command entitled “Volunteers Surviving in the 70’s”.

In 1975, alarmed by the lack of adequate ambulance service in Fayetteville, the Chief purchased two ambulances and manned them with EMT-As trained in Pennsylvania and Maryland. The Fayetteville Volunteer Fire Department ambulance service was the first in the State to be certified under recent State regulations governing training, manpower and equipment. Plans also were initiated by Cutchall to provide advanced life support to his community within the next year.

On July 6, 1977 the final tribute was paid to James C. Cutchall in a style never before experienced in central Pennsylvania. Firefighters and 80 pieces of apparatus from 60 fire companies in six states lined both sides of Lincoln Way in Chambersburg for the mile-long procession to Lincoln Cemetery where the Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and Halfway, Maryland aerial towers formed an arch draped in black. The casket, carried in the red velvet hose bed of Engine 7-1, was followed by more than 2,500 uniformed firefighters who, along with friends, slowly moved toward the cemetery in sweltering 100-degree heat.

Some of the mourners present included Don Flinn, IAFC, Chief Burton Johnson, District of Columbia Fire Department, Chief Robert Little, Director, Eastern Division, along with representatives of the University of Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute and members of the Pennsylvania State Legislature and Pennsylvania State Police.

Normally I would not use something that someone else wrote for my site but this is a rare case. The two men that wrote the article on Chief Cutchall were best of friends with him; they too were dedicated to the fire service and its betterment. In later years they both gave their lives in the line of duty also. This entry is a tribute to all three men.

~Story borrowed written by unknown Author~

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