Although at one time a large volunteer fire department, the Harrisburg Fire Bureau has had paid fire personnel since the 1870's. During that period, horses were acquired and used on a full time basis to pull the heavy steam fire engines. Drivers were also hired full time by each volunteer company to take care of the horses and drive the apparatus. In May, 1914, the City had taken over paying the driver's salaries which averaged $50.00 a month for a 126 hour work week. Beginning sometime about the turn of the century the paid fire drivers were loosely bound through a social organization known as the Harrisburg Fire Driver's Association. Very little is known of this group and it must be assumed it was more or less social in nature.
Following a court case initiated by the Fire Driver’s Association in 1931, to be recognized under an existing law pertaining to the make up of a paid fire department, the city was forced to reduce the work hours to 72 per week. On July 1, 1932, the City placed the fire drivers on a two platoon system. This necessitated the hiring of 18 additional men bringing the Fire Bureau paid complement to 52 salaried drivers.
For the next three years, a number of these newer men agitated the old Fire Driver's Association and looked to the International Association of Fire Fighters for recognition in their fight against City Hall for better wages and working conditions. On March 15, 1935, the newly organized Capital City Paid Fireman's Relief and Pension Fund Association Local 428 was formed. All vestiges of the Harrisburg Fire Drivers Association were rolled into the new organization.
In the ensuing decades, the presence of the Local within the Fire Department united those paid fire drivers to work through City Hall and slowly reduce their work hours and better their wages. One milestone passed on November 10, 1948, when the City lowered the work schedule to 56 hours a week by instituting a three-platoon system.
During the two decades of the 1950's and 1960's, the salaried personnel handled more and more of the fire activity as the once plentiful volunteers became less and less active. In 1959, by ordinance of council, the fire drivers officially became fire fighters.
In 1968, Local 428 participated heavily in the landslide passage of Act 111. This monumental piece of legislature in essence requires binding arbitration between Pennsylvania's policemen and firemen and their municipalities to settle wage and working condition disputes. Following on the heels of this Act, Local 428 negotiated its first Basic Working Agreement with the City of Harrisburg in November 1970.
Probably the bleakest and also a high point in the history of Local 428 occurred late in 1982 after newly elected Mayor Stephen R. Reed assumed office of a city in financial ruin. He had plans to slash twelve jobs from an already short handed Fire Bureau. Through a very well organized public campaign led by President Barry Buskey, the Union fought and kept those jobs.
Since that time the City and the Union have met numerous times at the bargaining table or before an arbitrator to resolve labor disputes and better the working conditions and wages of the members of the Fire Bureau. During the past four decades, union members have garnered a steady increase in benefits and compensation. Two noteworthy issues won were a further reduction of working hours to 42 a week with the addition of D Platoon in 1979 and a minimum manning clause stabilizing the manpower on duty at 16 firefighters and a command officer in 1994.
As Local 428 passes it's 75th Anniversary, it has become generally acknowledged that the 88 or so career members of the Fire Bureau are virtually Harrisburg's sole means of fire protection, the volunteers but a mere speck of their past.
Local 428 is also represented annually in the Harrisburg community through their participation in the Muscular Dystrophy collections for Jerry's Kids, sponsorship in scholarships to Harrisburg high school students, gathering and giving food baskets at Thanksgiving, giving away of Senators tickets, and many other related activities.
The first home of Local 428 was the Hope Fire Station No. 2. Later meeting and office space was secured in the Allison No. 12 house. In 1980, the firefighters moved into new City Station No. 2. With cramped quarters and the relation strained seriously with the City, Local 428 opted to move to 2915 N. Front St. where it rented space in the basement. In 1988, the local was again forced to move. For one year it rented space at the Spanish Speaking Center on S. 13th St. The following year the local moved to 522 S. 22nd St. and shared space with the Central Labor Council Blood Bank.
In 1995, Local 428, through the auspices of its brother organization, known as City Firefighters, Inc. purchased the old Royal Fire Station No. 14 at 2048 Derry St. During the summer and fall of 1996, extensive renovations took place utilizing the trade unions as much as possible and in December, the local moved in. This has become hopefully the Local's last permanent home.
Currently the building houses office and meeting space on the second floor with the spacious apparatus room serving as a hall for retirement parties and other larger social events.
David W. Houseal