The Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department of Baltimore
by Danny Coolahan
1998/ II - 1999
|The following history represents the origins, evolution, and progress of the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department, Station 35, of Arbutus, Maryland. The first part (‘38-early 60’s), has been adapted from an earlier history written by unknown author(s) which was originally printed in the 1963 Silver Jubilee program. Most of what is written is believed to be fact and is derived from old newspaper articles, minutes of meetings, log books, and memories. Some of what is written has been orally passed down throughout the years and can not necessarily be proven, but is worthy of mentioning. Be it fact, rumor, or legend, this is the story of the neighborhood fire house in the town of Arbutus.|
Jump off point:
The Break-up and New Beginning
Rapid Growth in the Early Years
Changes and New Ideas
Modernization of The Department
Power Boat?, New Colors?, Women?
A Changing Society Reflected within the Department
Towards the 21st Century
The year was 1938 and the surrounding towns just Southwest of Baltimore City were mostly rural villages still feeling the effects of the Great Depression like the rest of the country. The streetcar ran out of Baltimore, through Arbutus, and into Halethorpe. The many family farms of the area were still producing crops and dairy products. The interstate system and townhouse developments had not yet split the rolling hills. The terms “metropolitan”, “suburbs”, and “shopping centers” were meaningless to the tight knit communities.
At the Violeteville Volunteer Fire Dept.(VVFD) in November of 1937, a bitter disagreement over the leadership of the company climaxed with the departure of seventeen members. Led by Robert D. Lycett, the newly formed Community Volunteer Fire Company of Violeteville seized an American La France Pumper, ambulance, player piano, and a few other items. The two factions of the small town fire department both elected officers on Friday, February 4, 1938 and battled for dominance over one another in the following months.
The matter was finally settled by Judge C. Gus Grason in the Circuit Court of Baltimore County on Thursday, October 20, 1938. He awarded control of all equipment and assets to the original group and ruled that the others must surrender the apparatus that had been seized earlier. Rather than concede, the men decided to form a new department. Chief Engineer Anthony P. Orban of the Baltimore County Fire Dept. advised the men to locate west of the railroad tracks in Arbutus and he would help them in any way that he could.
The Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department of Baltimore County (AVFD) was incorporated at 11:55 am on November 21, 1938. Sixteen original member’s names were recorded on the Articles of Incorporation: Robert D. Lycett, Oliver C. Kendrick, Fred P. Gick, David Harmening, Clarence W. Joh, Everett Nash, James Forder, Joseph F. Marks, Sr., Joseph F. Marks, Jr., William Marks, Howard E. Ittner, Paul M. Rock, Edward S. MacNabb, Fred Suresch, Ernest Cavey, and Maurice W. Scholing. Other sources indicate a seventeenth person, James R. Grimm, as being a charter member but his name does not appear on the articles of incorporation.
The Arbutus Community Association leased a portion of their land on the North side of Linden Avenue to the new firemen and donated their carnival dance floor as lumber for construction of a building. On November 26, 1938 the men met on their new grounds to begin construction of a firehouse. They cut the dance floor up into three parts, which were then used for the first floor walls. They went into debt to buy the necessary materials to complete the building. The finished product was nothing more than a two story garage with two doors on the first floor for the fire engine and ambulance, and sleeping quarters upstairs. The first apparatus was a 1927 American La France - 500gpm pumper and a 1932 Kissel ambulance. It is unknown whether or not this engine was that which was seized from VVFD after the split.
With the huge debt facing them and the need for operating expenses, they started holding “Country Store Bingo” to raise funds. Bingo would continue to be one of the major sources of income for AVFD even after sixty years.
In 1939, application was made to the Baltimore County Commissioners for an appropriation to maintain a volunteer fire department. An appropriation of $500 was made for the following two years and after that, $1000 per year. The Baltimore Co. Fire Dept. also donated some used 2 ½ inch fire hose which was greatly needed and appreciated. Later that year, AVFD members Oliver Kendrick, Maurice Scholing, and David Harmening formed a by-laws committee. Soon thereafter, a Constitution and by-laws were adopted. (back)
In 1942 the Arbutus Community Association relocated across Linden Avenue to a new building at their present location (Town Hall). The AVFD bought the old community hall which was next door to their small firehouse. The upstairs of the old hall was converted into a recreation room and sleeping quarters for those who would spend the night on duty. The firemen continued to use both buildings for the next 22 years.
During this year the Department replaced their apparatus. They bought a new 1942 Ford/Ward LaFrance, 500 GPM pumper and a Buick Limited Sedan which was converted into an ambulance. These were also the war years and the Civil Defense Headquarters for the 13th district of Baltimore County was set up in the sleeping/meeting room on the second floor of the original firehouse.
In 1945, an addition was built onto the back of the old community hall building. The basement level of the addition had room for the parking of two more pieces of apparatus behind one large garage door. About the same time, a Chrysler station wagon was bought for use as an “emergency vehicle”.
In 1947, the Department went into the rescue business. A 1947 International Panel Truck was purchased for use as a floodlight/rescue squad and was later designated Rescue Squad 353. This vehicle transported a floodlight system, boat and grapple hooks, portable cellar pump, and an acetylene torch. Also that year, a 1947 Seagrave-750 GPM pumper (later Engine 351) replaced the 1942 Ford/Ward LaFrance. The old Ford/Ward LaFrance was sold to the newly formed Liberty Road Volunteer Fire Dept. as their first engine.
A new 1948 Buick Roadmaster Ambulance was acquired the following year. This ambulance was outfitted to carry up to four patients at one time. This was known as the “swoop and scoop” era. Ambulance personnel were instructed to a minimal of first aid skills as compared to the standards of today. Ambulance attendants would “swoop” down on patients and “scoop” them up to be rushed to the hospital with little or no medical treatment. The ambulance carried a two-body Emerson Resuscitator, one oxygen inhalator, first aid equipment, and a two-way Police radio operated under the direction of the Baltimore County Police Department.
Although growing, the community was still largely rural. Much of the surrounding area was still wooded and many of the original farms were still in existence. A brush vehicle was added to the Department in 1951. The four-wheel drive, 1947 Willy’s Jeep Forest Firefighter was bought to aid the firemen in fighting brush fires.
In 1955, a 1954 Dodge Floodlight/Rescue Squad was bought to replace the old rescue squad. This bigger truck was much better suited to handle more technical rescues. It was equipped with an acetylene torch, power saws and drills, railroad jacks, grapple hooks, asbestos suits, smoke ejector fans, portable generator, floodlights, and many other rescue tools. The new Dodge became Rescue Squad 354 and the old International was retained by AVFD until 1960 when it was sold to member Harley Bush.
One year later, a 1956 Cadillac Ambulance (Ambulance 356) was added to accommodate the growing number of medical calls. This may have been when AVFD became a “double ambulance” company. This Department had become largely responsible for ambulance service in most of the southwest corner of Baltimore County as well as parts of Howard and Anne Arundel counties.
In 1958, a 1957 Seaking-14ft flat-bottom aluminum boat (Boat 350) and trailer were purchased to replace the old boat. This boat, after more than 40 years, is still in service for appropriate uses such as ice rescues. (back)
At AVFD, the year 1961 brought about what probably seemed to be a radical change. In an attempt to lure new members, the age requirement was lowered from 21 to 18. This change came, but not without a fight. There was probably a great deal of resistance to letting in young members. The 18 to 21 year old members still needed parental consent and were not considered full members until their twenty-first birthday.
The Arbutus Volunteer Fire Dept. Ladies Auxiliary was “reorganized” in 1963. This group of ladies were the spouses of members and were a supporting unit of the Department. Not only did they help in fund raising for vital equipment and expenses but offered moral support as well.
1963 was also a year of an invention which contributed greatly to the work of ambulance personnel but has been, for the most part, forgotten about. The design of the suction units found on ambulances for many years was the idea of AVFD member Ed Kelly.
Several Arbutus firemen, including Mr. Kelly, were attending ambulance school at City Hospital. Their instructor, Dr. Wilder, suggested a more efficient means of operating a suction unit by means of the ambulance’s engine intake manifold. Used to suction fluids out of a patient’s mouth, the old suction devices were run off of an oxygen cylinder and were wasteful and unreliable. Mr. Kelly made a prototype system on his own car and then applied it to the two ambulances at AVFD.
One of the newly equipped ambulances was taken back to Dr. Wilder for a demonstration. Dr. Wilder photographed the device and showed it to the Baltimore City Fire Dept.’s Chief of Ambulances. Soon afterward all of Baltimore City’s ambulances were outfitted with the system.
This was a true advancement and became widely accepted as a standard in ambulances for many years. Unfortunately, Mr. Kelly’s design wasn’t patented and he was never credited with his invention outside of AVFD. (back)
Once more AVFD felt the growing pains of a Department growing as rapidly as the community around it. The original little firehouse and the “old hall” were just not big enough for the two ambulances, fire engine, rescue squad, and jeep. Once again a major change was just around the corner.
A bid was sealed with Ira Rigger Construction Company for the erection of a new modern fire station with an adjoining banquet hall at a cost of $147,272. On Sunday, May 4, 1964, a groundbreaking ceremony took place on the site of the new station. BCoFB Chief Winfield Wineholt and AVFD President Robert Brittingham officially turned over the first shovel of dirt that day.
AVFD moved to its new home at 5200 Southwestern Blvd. on Tuesday evening, October 20, 1964 after more than 25 years at 1330 Linden Ave. The modern building had four apparatus bays, hose tower, sleeping quarters, office space, and a large banquet hall for rental and Departmental affairs.
After the transition was complete, the two old buildings were razed for parking space. The public was invited to an official dedication ceremony and open house on Sunday, October 10, 1965.
During the next several years
AVFD continued its growth with the acquisition of more modern apparatus
to replace the aging equipment. In December of 1966, a new 1966 Mack C85-FD- 750 GPM pumper
(Engine 351) was delivered; in 1968, a new 1967 Jeep brush unit (Brush
352); in 1971, a 1969 Brockway/Providence Heavy Rescue Squad (Rescue
Squad 354). Between the
early 1960’s and the late 1970’s, the ambulances were being replaced
at a rate of about one every two years. (back)
By the time Hurricane Agnes hit Maryland in August of 1972 it had been downgraded to a Tropical Storm but it still managed to devastate much of the east coast. AVFD, along with every emergency department in Baltimore County and surrounding jurisdictions, was overwhelmed with a massive overload of calls. Death and destruction were the end results of the catastrophic flooding which caught most by surprise.
After the waters had subsided, it was decided that AVFD would not be caught off guard again as it was during the torrential storm. A 1973 Boston Whaler power boat and a 1973 Chevrolet Custom 20, 4x4 pick-up truck (Utility 358) were bought in preparedness for the next “big one”. In a short time it was realized that the power boat would not be around to see the next “100 years flood”. After very few emergency responses the Boston Whaler was sold in 1974.
In 1978, AVFD purchased a 1978 Seagrave 1250 GPM pumper, although this one was not a
replacement. This fire engine/pumper, designated as Engine 352, was in addition to the compliment of apparatus. But this engine was noticeably different than the others; the color was lime-green/yellow instead of fire engine red. The color choice was a new visibility safety standard being adopted by fire departments all over the country and had already started being used on AVFD medic units.
It had been decided to become a “double engine company” much like some of the other surrounding departments. This gave the Department the dubious distinction of being the only “double engine” and “double medic” company in Baltimore County.
Once again in the late 1970’s, AVFD was stirring with a very hot and controversial topic; Women as active riding members. For years the women who wished to help the Department became members of the Ladies Auxiliary. But by this time, many women were wanting to do more than help raise money and work at Department events. Women were fast becoming part of the American workforce and competing in male dominated jobs. Many career and volunteer fire departments nationwide had already incorporated women into their workplace with much success.
It was 1980 when the first women were accepted as full members of AVFD. Unfortunately, for many years some still insisted that the women did not belong in the firehouse and were not physically or mentally capable of being a firefighter. But for nearly 20 years, women have competently filled nearly every rank within the Department. Not only have they served as firefighters and paramedics but also as Operations officers, Administrative Officers, including President, and served on the Board of Directors. To this day, AVFD is well known for having a higher than average percentage of female members. (back)
Throughout the 1980’s, AVFD continued with the modernization and upgrading of apparatus in a highly technological time. The ambulances were state of the art Advanced Life Support (ALS) equipped units. The Rescue Squad and “Old Mack” engine were both professionally refurbished but when they came back to AVFD they were no longer fire engine red. They had been given the new lime-green/yellow paint scheme.
The aging brush jeep was severely damaged at the scene of a woods fire near present day Giant shopping center on Wilkens Avenue. In the 80’s the Arbutus area was nearly saturated with development. The farms were all gone and very few fields or wooded areas remained. Since brush units were being maintained at nearby Catonsville #4 and Halethorpe #5 career stations, it was decided that after more than 30 years a brush jeep was no longer needed at AVFD.
On August 6, 1987, a 1987 Hahn 1250 GPM pumper (Engine 351) arrived at AVFD to take the place of the 1966 Mack. The “Old Mack” was a reliable and favorite piece of many , but it was far too outdated to compete with the modern fire engines of the day. Many members still reminisce about responding to fires on cold winter nights while standing on the back step of the old rig. In July of 1987 the engine pulled out of AVFD for the last time with the firehouse siren blowing in tribute to “Old Mack”!!
For several years, the Ladies Auxiliary had difficulty recruiting new members and retaining the old members. A lack of support from AVFD had also been a very discouraging factor for the Ladies who were trying to help the Department. In 1990, after many years of dedication, the remaining ladies of the Auxiliary voted to dissolve their organization. (back)
In the early hours of a June morning in 1993, a much anticipated addition to the family arrived. A 1993 Spartan Gladiator/ American Fire & Rescue, Heavy Rescue Squad (Rescue Squad 354) finally rolled into Arbutus after years of planning and waiting. The old 1969 Brockway had been showing its age for some time. The squad had difficulty making the climb up the beltway towards US Rt. 40 since being weighed down over the years with heavier and more advanced equipment. The old squad found new paint and a new life as Reserve Rescue #1 with the Baltimore City Fire Department. Very often, the Brockway can still be seen responding to emergency incidents through the busy streets of downtown Baltimore or sitting “in quarters” at the John Steadman Station on Lombard and Eutaw Streets.
The new squad had more than enough pulling power and room for all necessary tools, but something else was also very different. Red was back! After about a 10 year absence, AVFD decided to start returning their apparatus to a more traditional white over red paint scheme. Nobody really liked the lime-green/yellow anyway and if they did, they wouldn’t admit it.
It was noticed that there was an increasing amount of potential members being turned away due to the fact that they were not yet 18 years old. These young adults would simply seek membership at the other surrounding volunteer companies who had been accepting members at 16 years old for many years.
Another hot debate at AVFD was brewing! Tempers flared at the thought of letting “children” become riding members. The initial attempt to allow the young members failed approval by the membership but the fight wasn’t over. In 1995 the by-laws were once again amended to allow members between the ages of 16 and 18. The young members had to have guardian consent and were strictly limited to certain hours of Departmental participation during the school year. In addition, the young members had to present their report card quarterly and could be suspended from Department activities for failure to maintain ‘C’s in all classes.
During a time of litigation, strict training standards, and insurance considerations, the 40 year old aluminum boat was brought into question. There was no real training or certification to use the boat for water rescues and it became a liability concern. The membership decided to commit to the development of a properly trained water rescue team within the department instead of getting rid of the boat all together. This was also AVFD’s way of specializing in a rescue field to comply with Baltimore County’s Rescue - 2000 plan.
In 1996, under the instruction of Rescue 3 International, training began for Swift Water Rescue Technicians and the beginning of AVFD’s Swift Water Rescue Team (SRT-35). A Seaworthy, 12ft inflatable raft was donated and proper water rescue equipment such as helmets, wet suits, ropes, and personal flotation devices were purchased. Together, AVFD and Kingsville Vol. Fire Dept. (St.48) became the Swift Water Task Force for Baltimore County.
In 1997, AVFD had a remarkable amount of changes. Half of the parking lot was crumbling and full of pot holes. The other half was a little bit of stone and a lot of mud. During large hall events, parking was what you made of it. After and enormous amount of work and cutting through red tape, the lot was finally paved with asphalt and striped with dedicated parking for loading, handicapped, and Department members.
Also that year, a dedicated group of ladies reorganized the Auxiliary. Membership was now open to both male and female members who did not want to ride the apparatus but were interested in helping with Department events. Bingo and dances were just a couple of the Auxiliary sponsored events to raise money for the benefit of AVFD.
One of the most exciting events of 1997 was the replacement of the dilapidated 1978 Seagrave pumper. The old Seagrave was badly rusted, leaking, and wasn’t able to pump the 1250 gallons per minute of water for which it was rated. A 1997 Pierce-Dasch, 1250 GPM pumper found a home at AVFD
as the new Engine 352. The Seagrave went to Levels Volunteer Fire Dept. in Levels, West Virginia where it was truly welcomed as a “modern” fire engine.
In September of 1998, the AVFD Auxiliary made a gracious presentation to the Department. A new set of Holmatro rescue tools for Squad 354 replaced the 1970’s era Hurst rescue tools. The new tools were smaller, lighter, faster, stronger, and more technologically advanced than the old Hurst system.
Also in 1998, a decision was made to replace Engine-351 instead of refurbish it. The eleven year old Hahn 1250 GPM pumper was still in good condition but was showing signs of its age.
Engine-352 was less than a year old and was met with great success in design and performance. Since the blueprints were still fresh and the price was still relatively current, Pierce would become the builder of the new Engine-351. The 1999 Pierce Dasch 2000-1250 GPM pumper was nearly a twin to the 1997 model and arrived during the summer of 1999. The Hahn and 57 sections of extra hose were sold shortly after being put up for sale and months before the new engine would arrive. S&L Fire Equipment of Andalusia, Alabama purchased it in order to refurbish for the local volunteer fire company in the town of Andalusia.
The 1988 Ford/Medtec ambulance (Medic-356) had also served diligently for longer than anyone had expected but was in dire need of replacement. The committee reviewed many different design plans and companies and came to a decision on a 1999 Ford F-350/Horton-Type I ambulance. The new ambulance arrived in May and put into service in June of 1999. The 1988 Ford was retained by the Department and converted into a Swift Water Rescue response unit and redesignated as Special Unit 359.
In May of that same year, a special meeting was held and a decision agreed upon to open a substation at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) campus. Medic 355 would be housed on campus and “University Members” would staff the unit during the school year. The “University Members” would be given the same training and responsibilities as regular members but would have no voting rights and would be held accountable to the fire line officers and Board of Directors of the Department. (back)
AVFD recently celebrated an achievement of 60 years of commitment to their community and hopes to continue providing professional protection to the citizens of Baltimore County for many more years. All the services of the equipment, and the members, are completely volunteer. Expenses of the Department are met by fundraising events such as the annual carnival, fund drive, bingo, photo drive, and hall rental to name just a few.
As the twentieth century came to a close in 1999, the Department had responded to 1019 fire/rescue calls and 1615 ambulance calls for the year. Through the efforts of the men and women of the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department, who have worked long and faithfully for the advancement of their organization, this Department has reached an enviable position among the volunteer fire companies of Baltimore County. (back)