Michael Lally says his proudest moment as president and chief of Box 21 Emergency Support Services was when he helped at the World Trade Center following the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Lally says he and other members of Box 21 were in New York City for three days with their search and rescue dogs helping the New York City Fire and Police departments with their recovery efforts.

It’s what Box 21 has been doing for more than 80 years. Its mission, says Box 21 member and webmaster Pamela Deaton, “has always been to help those who help others. That’s kind of our little motto.”

It’s a motto the oldest continuously operating all-volunteer emergency service organization in the area has been living up to since it was formed in 1935. That’s when “fire buffs,” as they were known then, Lally says, would hang around Dayton’s firehouse and help the firefighters when they were busy at the scene of an emergency.

“There were some major fires and they would bring hot coffee and sandwiches to the firefighters and that turned into helping them on the hose line,” Lally says. “And things progressed to where we are today.”

Where they are today is more than just serving firefighters, police officers and other first responders hot coffee, donuts, pizza and hot chocolate at the scene of a fire or major accident. Oh, they still do that with their canteen truck.

But Box 21 has expanded into helping those first responders in other areas. Box 21 is usually the first organization called for a water rescue, says Deaton. “We’re kind of known for our water rescue,” she says. 

That’s because Box 21 has the specialized equipment needed for specific water rescues, such as below the many low-head dams on the Miami Valley’s rivers. That boat, called a rescue deck, is able to maneuver into the dangerous current below the dam and get the victim and rescuers out safely, Deaton says.

In addition, Lally says, “If someone drowns or their car goes in the water we‘re one of the few dive teams in the area that will do recoveries.”

Many community members may also know the organization by the two rescue vehicles equipped with bright lights that the group provides at nighttime motor vehicle accident scenes and SWAT standoffs. 

Box 21 also provides emergency services for community events such as fairs and 5K runs, says Deaton. All the services Box 21 provides are free. All the members are unpaid volunteers who just want to help others, says Deaton.

Box 21 relies on the generosity of donations from the community, she says. “We receive no funds other than donations,” Deaton says. And each of the members volunteer their time, just like the original members of Box 21.

So how did the group get the name Box 21? It’s from the fire alarm telegraph stations, or boxes, that were installed throughout Dayton in the 1930s. People would open the box and ring the alarm alerting the fire department to the location of an emergency.

Box 21 just happened to be the station that seemed to get the most serious emergencies. “When anything came from that box it always seemed to be bad,” says Deaton. “And so the members said that’s the one we’re going to use as our moniker. And that’s how the name was born.”

For more information or to donate to Box 21 Emergency Support Services go online to box21support.org or mail a check or money order to P.O. Box 21, Dayton OH 45401.