Will you support independent, non-partisan journalism?

Become a champion of local news and unlock additional benefits as a LebTown member, like exclusive members-only emails, access to comments, invitations to members-only events, and more.

Make an impact. Cancel anytime.

Already a member? Login here

When he was a young boy in the early 1930s, Philip Mohn couldn’t wait to follow in his father’s footsteps and be a volunteer fireman. 

“I just wanted to be like him,” says the 96-year-old Philip to explain his desire to join Perseverance Fire Company #10 in Jonestown, which was formed in 1803 and chartered in 1816. “My dad was a fireman and I wanted to be one, too.” 

Two generations later, the legacy started by Philip’s father Leroy Mohn (pronounced Moon) lives on as four generations of the Mohn family have served the greater northern Lebanon County community as volunteer firefighters.

Leryon Mohn was the first of four generations (so far) of the Mohn family who have served the Jonestown community as firefighters for the Perseverance Fire Company #10. His picture is on display in the fire company’s museum at its Jonestown station. (James Mentzer)

Philip’s son, Tom, and Tom’s son, Dan (who is the current company chief), are both still active. Dan’s brother, Tim, who no longer lives in the area, will respond to calls right beside his family whenever he is back home for a visit, according to Tom. A cousin to the Mohn family is also active with the company. 

To put their involvement into perspective, a member of the Mohn family has served for at least 100 of the nearly 220 years the company has been in existence. A rough estimate of the total combined years of service to the community by the four family members is believed to be about 160 years.

“I am proud of them,” said Philip when asked how his offspring’s involvement makes him feel. “And I know it would have made my father proud, too.”

The desire to serve is so deeply rooted in the family’s makeup that all wanted to speed up the hands of time so they could reach that magical age of 16, the age when young men and women were old enough to serve. Today, a young person can join as a junior firefighter at the age of 14 but can’t respond to calls until they turn 18.

All three Mohns basically grew up at the fire hall. Tom told a story of going inside the tanker trucks as a young boy to scrub rust off the inside liner of the tanks. Dan said his situation growing up was a little bit different than the other family members: all three generations were active at the same time when he was old enough to run with the company. 

“It was unique for me growing up since they were the primary drivers of the apparatus,” said Dan, who works as a communications dispatcher for Life Lion Emergency Services and Critical Care in Hershey. “There were times when you’d have all three – my dad, my brother and myself – and my grandfather coming up the street would stop at our house and we’d all hop in, so you had four people show up at the firehouse just like that.”

He snapped his fingers.

“There were a lot of times when the first engine out, my dad was driving; second engine out, my grandfather was driving or vice versa,” says Dan. “While that didn’t necessarily push me to be a driver, it certainly helped me appreciate what they did.”

Once a person answers the call to serve, it becomes a part of their very essence. 

“It really becomes a part of you,” said Tom. “Almost anything that you are doing stops immediately when a call comes in. Dan’s mother, my first wife, and I were at the Lebanon Plaza Mall and we received a call. She had to get a ride home with her sister.”

Dan told a very personal, and slightly exaggerated, story of his dad’s dedication to the company. He said, amidst some laughter, that his father left his mother at the hospital when she was in labor when an emergency occurred.

“The second part of that is not true,” said Tom. “She wasn’t giving birth, she was in early labor. A call did come in, and I did go on that call, but she did not deliver for about 12 hours after that call, so his story is somewhat factually correct.”

Philip, who owned Mohn’s TV and Appliance store in Jonestown for many years, would leave his business at a moment’s notice when the company siren would alert town residents of an emergency call – even when customers were in the store.

“I would leave my customers standing there and say, ‘Here, call my wife.’ I’d give them the phone number and then run to the firehall.”

Philip’s said his fire service began in 1942 during World War II, a time when the ranks of available local fire company crew members were depleted since most were overseas serving their country. 

(A WWII veteran, Philip was drafted and sent to the Pacific Theatre, adding that he was on a train that was at Horseshoe Curve near Altoona heading west when news arrived that America had dropped nuclear bombs on Japan. He still was deployed to Japan and walked the deserted streets of Hiroshima in the weeks after the atomic bombs had been dropped on the island nation.)

“My dad and the local undertaker (Stanley Strauss), who were both too old for the draft, drove the fire trucks,” said Philip about his fire service during the war as a teenager. “When the fire alarm rang, us boys that were 16 would get out of school, we would run up to the square and then down to the firehall and get on the trucks and go.” 

Long gone are the days when the fire alarm would ring in Jonestown, alerting firefighters and town residents alike that an emergency situation required immediate attention. Pagers now beep to tell volunteers to respond to the fire station; a huge advancement from the 1970s when the announcement of an emergency was sent via telephone lines.

“We had something called a fire phone and people would call that number, and it would ring at 10 different homes in Jonestown at the same time,” said Tom. “If you were on the phone talking to someone, you would have to hang up. Once the phone rang, it was one continuous ring, so you knew what it was, and you knew to come to the firehouse.” 

Other technological advances have not only helped save lives but reduce the number of fire deaths the company responds to throughout the year. The Mohns cited in-home smoke alarms along with such gear as air packs that allow firefighters to enter a burning structure to rescue people who are trapped as important innovations against fire fatalities.

“At one point, we only had one airpack, then, when I joined, we had two,” said Tom. “I believe we have 18 airpacks now.”

Dan told a story his grandfather Philip had shared with him when he was part of Company #10’s rescue team. 

“There was a call at Colonial Park (near Harrisburg) and they went up with the Jaws of Life,” said Dan, “because other companies didn’t have it. We were one of the first companies in the area to get that technology.”

Today, every engine has some type of Jaws of Life equipment that runs on battery power. “The technology has gone from old motors to single-handed devices that are run by a hydraulic pump,” says Dan, “and each device is a standalone that only requires one person to carry it instead of three.”

Due to the limited availability of airpacks, Philip remembered a fire in the 1950s that killed a young child who lived in Woods Creek because firefighters were unable to enter the engulfed structure. 

“We got back there and we’re putting this fire out and there was a kid on the second floor in a room with no windows,” said Philip. “Lickdale was there before us, but no one could get to him. We had trouble finding him and here he was back underneath the bed.”

Since firefighters deal with human tragedy more than others, it’s understandable why they try to forget much of what they’ve seen and experienced. Try as they may, however, there are some calls that always stay within the deepest recesses of your memory. 

Tom said one fatal fire at Bunker HIll involving two boys who were about the same age as his two sons is one call he’ll always remember.

“We don’t get many fatal fires, but that was one I remember,” said Tom. “Having two boys of my own who were about the same age as those two boys hit hard. But anytime it involves kids – accidents, fire, whatever – that always hits you harder (than other emergencies).”

Dan’s most memorable call was the 2016 Valentine’s Day 60-vehicle fatal crash on I-78 near Fredericksburg after a sudden snow squall created whiteout conditions. After he arrived on scene, Dan helped four helicopters land on the interstate highway. 

The 2016 Valentine’s Day crash on I-78 near Fredericksburg was the most memorable call of fourth-generation firefighter Dan Mohn’s career to date. (Perseverance Fire Company #10’s Facebook page)

“The tractor trailers were stacked up on top of each other,” said Dan. “After I landed the helicopters, we bused 60 of the walking wounded back to the firehouse. We worked with the American Red Cross that day and I spoke to ABC Nightly News that evening about it. But, honestly, there are so many accidents and fires, so you really try not to think about them.”

Odds are favorable that the Mohn family firefighting tradition lives on through the next generation. Two of Dan’s three children will likely become junior firefighters when they reach age 14. 

“My oldest son (13-year old Thomas) has exhibited borderline interest while the middle child (10-year-old Henry) and my youngest (7-year-old daughter Gabriele) are gung-ho about the fire company,” said Dan. 

Questions about this story? Suggestions for a future LebTown article? Reach our newsroom using this contact form and we’ll do our best to get back to you.

Do you want to see more from LebTown?

Support local news. Cancel anytime.

Already a member? Login here

Free news isn’t cheap. If you value the journalism LebTown provides to the community, then help us make it sustainable by becoming a champion of local news. You can unlock additional coverage for the community by supporting our work with a one-time contribution, or joining as a monthly or annual member. You can cancel anytime.

James Mentzer

James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; and Lancaster...