Be it fact, rumor, or legend, this is the story of the neighborhood fire house in the town of Arbutus.
Originally written by James P. Judge (1963) & later expanded by Daniel C. Coolahan (1998) with subsequent revisions
The following history represents the origins, evolution, and progress of the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department, Station 35, of Arbutus,
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” held no meaning to the tightly knit communities.
At the Violetville 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 Violetville 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
The Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department of Baltimore County (AVFD) was incorporated at 11:55am 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.
The Arbutus Community Association leased a portion of their land on the North side of
With the huge debt facing them and the need for operating expenses, they started holding “Country Store Bingo” to raise funds. AVFD also took over a community carnival that would become an annual summer tradition. The Carnival and bingo would be the two biggest sources of income for AVFD for many 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.
The Ladies Auxiliary to the Arbutus Vol. Fire Dept. (LAAVFD) was formed in these early years. These ladies were the spouses of the all-male AVFD 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.
At a Pikesville meeting on October 18, 1939, the LAAVFD became one of six charter organizations to the newly formed Ladies Auxiliary to the Baltimore County Firemen's Association. The LAAVFD would experience several reorganizations over the years
In 1940 the Arbutus Community Association relocated across
During this year the Department replaced their apparatus. They bought a new 1942 Ford/Ward LaFrance, 500 GPM pumper and a 1940 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 1942 Chrysler Town & Country, wood paneled, station wagon was bought for use as an “emergency vehicle”.
In 1947, the Department went into the rescue business. A 1947 International Harvester, KB-1 Panel Van 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 66-750 GPM pumper (later Engine 351) replaced the 1942 Ford/Ward LaFrance. The old Ford/Ward LaFrance and Buick ambulance were sold to the newly formed Liberty Road Volunteer Fire Dept. as their first apparatus.
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 CJ-2A, Forest Firefighter was bought to aid the firemen in fighting brush fires.
In the mid 1950’s, all Baltimore County volunteer stations were given a three-digit station number to coincide with the rollout of the new radio system. Arbutus’ station designation would become 350 and the apparatus would be identified as Engine 351, Jeep 352, Squad 353, Ambulances 355 &356
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 was when AVFD became a double ambulance company. This Department had become largely responsible for ambulance service in most of the southwest corner of
In 1957, a 1957 Seaking-14ft flat-bottom aluminum boat (Boat 350) and trailer were purchased to replace a smaller boat that had been carried on the roof of the squad. This boat remained in use until about 2006.
At AVFD, the year 1961 brought about what probably seemed to be a radical change. 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.
After having become inactive for a time, the Ladies Auxiliary to the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Dept was reorganized in 1963 under the leadership of Marge Malone. These ladies once again dedicated their time and efforts to support the AVFD.
Nineteen sixty-three 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
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 This was an advancement that 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.
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
AVFD moved to its new home at
After the transition was complete, the two old fire house buildings were leveled for parking space. The public was invited to an official dedication ceremony and open house on
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 CJ-5, 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.
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
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 storm. In a short time, it was realized that the power boat was not an appropriate vessel for rescue. After very few emergency responses the Boston Whaler was sold in 1974.
In 1978, AVFD purchased a 1978 Seagrave PB, 1250 GPM pumper, although this one was not a
replacement. This unit, 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.
AVFD 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 having full membership. For years the women who wished to help the Department were only able to become members of the Ladies Auxiliary. By this time, many women were wanting to do more than help raise money and work at Department events. They were fast becoming part of the regular 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 Bonnie Cullom, Sherry Snader, and Jean Shipley were voted in as the first women members of AVFD. Unfortunately, for many years some old beliefs persisted that woman did not belong in the firehouse and were not capable of being a firefighter. Since that time, 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. AVFD continues to sustain a diverse membership.
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. In a cost saving measure, 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
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.
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 could be seen responding to emergency incidents through the busy streets of downtown
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. The lime-green/yellow color had never been very popular, and many departments had started to return to the more traditional red.
It was noticed that there was an increasing number of potential members being turned away because they were not yet 18 years old. These young adults would simply seek membership at 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 persisted. 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 AVFDs 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, personnel began training for Swift Water Rescue Technicians and the beginning of AVFD’s Swift Water Rescue Team (SRT-35). A 1996 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
In 1997, AVFD had a remarkable number of changes. Half of the parking lot was crumbling and full of potholes. The other half was a little bit of stone and a lot of mud. Nowhere were there striped parking spots. During large hall events, parking was what you made of it. After an 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. The Auxiliary took head on the dauntless task of fundraising to raise money to benefit AVFD.
One of the most exciting events of 1997 was the replacement of the aging 1978 Seagrave pumper. The old Seagrave was badly rusted, leaking, and unable to pump the 1250 gallons per minute of water for which it was rated. A new 1997 Pierce-Dash, 1250 GPM pumper found a home at AVFD
as the new Engine 352. The Seagrave went to Levels Volunteer Fire Dept. in Levels,
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
Also in 1998, a decision was made to replace Engine-351 instead of refurbishing 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 Dash 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 to refurbish for the local Rose Hill Vol. Fire Co.
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 Superduty, XLT/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 re-designated as Special Unit 359.
Years earlier, a building committee was formed to explore the possibilities of expanding or replacing the cramped station. Members often had to sleep on couches when the small bunkroom filled. There was little in the form of meeting, office, classroom, or storage spaces. Utility trucks and the Swiftwater vehicle had to sit outside in the elements. The boats for the Swiftwater team were stored in shipping containers on the back parking lot which caused a significant delay when alerted for a call.
The Building Committee diligently identified the needs and wants of the Department. Architectural company Brosso, Wilhelm, & McWilliams came up with several conceptual designs for an expansion of the existing facility which could include most of the needs identified by the Committee. While the committee fine tuned the building plans, the Department launched a Capitol Campaign led by Trager, Hadley & Associates to raise the estimated $3.5million for construction.
The first phase of the expansion would include a 3 story addition to the South end of the building. This would add three apparatus bays on the main level, sleeping and fitness area on the top level, and classroom and storage space on the lower.
Ground was ceremonially broken on
The James Knott Construction Co. commenced with work on Phase I. Many setbacks were encountered that delayed work, increased costs, and created numerous headaches but on October 7, 2005, the membership gained more room when they moved into the expansion. Instrumental members were given preference to be the first to “sleep in” in the new bunkroom that night. The engines and squad filled the new bays while the medics, swiftwater unit, boats, and utilities spread out in the old bays.
The one real extravagance that was added was a working brass slide pole. A pole was in the old firehouse but was not needed in the single story design of the existing 1964 building. Obtained from Baltimore City Fire Department’s Engine Co. #24 located at 214 Patterson Park Ave., the company was organized in 1904 and disbanded in 2000.
Member Tony “Rocco” Shockney anxiously waited around for days for the pole to be installed in July of 2005. The day finally came and before workers could secure the top, Tony slid down to find his place of distinction as being the first person to slide the “new” pole. He was later reminded that better firemen that he had slid that pole for 96 years.
Phase II would include a renovation of the existing building and Phase III would put a smaller two story addition on the North end of the building mostly for office space. Expectations for fundraising fell far too short and the other phases were put on hold.
An Official dedication was held on
A ceremonial ribbon cutting was performed by Mrs. Ehrlich, BCoFD Division Chief Larry D’Elia, BCVFA Senior Vice President Sue Coroneos, Finance Fundraiser Mark Trager, President Brian Simpkins, Building Committee Chairman Jimmy Zinkand Sr., Life Member Ed Preston, and Life Member Alfred “Dee” Neighoff Jr.
With a new Medic 356 on order, the 1999 Ford/Horton was taken out of service as M-356 and converted into the new swiftwater unit, Special Unit 359. This gave the growing SRT team a more reliable unit for responses. The old 1988 Ford/Medtec served AVFD for nearly 20 years as an ambulance and a swiftwater unit but moved just across the street where it served briefly with a private ambulance company.
Another minor addition to the apparatus was the purchase of Violetville Vol. Fire Co’s Utility 344, a 1988 Chevy Van. This was designated as U-357 and the current U-357 was renumbered as U-353. This designation of U-353 would be short lived since the vehicle was living out its usefulness and was cut up for rescue training later that summer.
In the third week of July 2017, the AVFD hosted their annual carnival just as they had for nearly 80 previous years. Unbeknownst to everyone involved, it would be the last. Due to many issues over the years including rising costs, low attendance, and dwindling profits, AVFD and Shaw & Sons Amusements came to a mutual decision to discontinue their decades long partnership.
The Carnival had been the major fundraiser since the beginning of AVFD. Generations of locals looked forward every year to reliving childhood memories of games, rides, cotton candy, and meeting up with friends. However, the enormous amount of time and effort to set up and run the carnival was no longer cost effective. AVFD and the Auxiliary would go on to introduce other successful fundraising such as Food Truck Wednesdays and medical standbys for UMBC.
In 2016 AVFD finally moved forward with the Phase II renovation of the living area of the firehouse. The upstairs of the outdated 1964 building was gutted and rebuilt with insulated walls, new doors & widows, kitchen, offices, and restrooms. The building was now fully sprinklered and more ready to meet the needs of the membership.
The Arbutus Vol. Fire Dept. has given over 80 years of commitment to their community and will continue providing professional protection to the citizens of Baltimore County for many more years. All the members and services of the equipment are completely volunteer. Expenses of the Department are met by fundraising events such as the fund drive, bingo, food trucks, and UMBC standbys. 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.