The History Of The Bel Alton Volunteer Fire Department
In the winter of 1962, Kenny Hardy stirred up the interest of the men of the town by suggesting that they get together and discuss the possibility of forming a local fire department.
The group of men decided to informally meet at Kenny’s gas station. To this meeting they invited Mr. Thomas P. “Bucky” McDonough of the University of Maryland Fire Service. Mr. McDonough’s advice to these men was to forget it, that the town was not large enough to support a fire department. This only gave these men more determination to try to make a go of it.
Postcards were written by Kayann Burton and the post cards had the following on it: “Attention all men of Bel Alton, Meeting for the purpose of organizing a fire department. Monday, March 19, 1962, 7:30 p.m., Bel Alton Community Hall”.
More than 40 people turned out for that first meeting and proclaimed their support. It was then, in order, to have an election of officers. After one member stated “we need an older man for President”, Joe Armsworthy nominated Fred Hayden. This was seconded and all were in favor.
The first elected officers were:
Fred Hayden – President
John Frere – Vice President
Jimmy Lyon – Secretary
Kenneth Hayden – Treasurer
The line officers were:
Kenny Hardy – Chief
Charlie Hayden – Assistant Chief
Aubrey Gragan – Captain
Hayden Burch – Lieutenant
Paul Gragan – Engineer
The then State Senator John T. Parran attended this meeting offering his support and advice. Donations in the amount of $134.25 were collected to begin the purchase of equipment.
Through a loan of $695.00 from Lawrence Hooes, the Company was able to purchase their first piece of equipment. A 1935 Seagrave, Engine 101 was purchased from Brandywine V.F.D. and is now owned by the Fishers of Feimster Farm. Cost to repair the truck was $50.00 and in order to bring the radio to FCC regulations, it cost $65.00 for parts and $15.00 for labor. This was the only piece of equipment owned when the department went into service. It was housed at the gas station until a permanent home could be found. Civil Defense was contacted and the donated three sirens. One was placed at 5th Street, near John Frere’s home and at Earl’s Truck Stop. The one that was placed at Earl’s Truck stop is now on the firehouse.
At the request of the Department, a Ladies Auxiliary was formed to help and support their efforts.
Mrs. Mabel Elder, a member of the Auxiliary, agreed to lease the former auto repair garage to the Department. After some renovations were done the Department had it’s first home.
Intense training began, first due area’s were established, insurance secured and everything was put in motion for the beginning of something great.
At the June 18, 1962, meeting, Howard Townsend made a motion that Company 10 go into service on June 19. 1962. Thus began the career of our Department. At this meeting the Ladies Auxiliary presented their first donation of $500.00. The proceeds were from a crab feast that was held on June 5, 1962 at the Robertson’s Crab House.
On June 19, 1962, at 8:30 a.m. the Department received it’s first call. Lightening had struck a barn on the Shake Bowling Farm. Everyone was stunned until Charlie Hayden yelled “Let’s go!”. Engine 101 was on the road for the first time loaded with new and eager firemen. Chief Kenny Hardy was the Commanding Officer and Charlie Hayden was the driver of the first call for the Bel Alton Volunteer Fire Department.
The search for equipment continued and resulted in the purchase of a Seagrave pumper for $50.00 which became Engine 102. Another purchase was made for a 1952 pick up truck for $30.00 from the Civil Defense in Jessup, Maryland which became Engine 104.
The largest fire the new Department experienced was eight months later, which was a dwelling fire at historic Mt. Republican. Mr. F. Bowie Addison hailed the Department stating “the very prompt response to my call, no doubt saved Old Mt. Republican and much of the contents”. The Department responded to 131 fire calls within their first year.
In order to support the Department, the men went door to door for donations. Fundraisers such as spaghetti dinners, crab feasts, dances, trap shoots, card parties, bingo, raffles, a horse show which turned out to be a disaster and later teen dances were held.
Many times the hose was damaged on a call and could not be replaced until a fundraiser was held to raise the necessary funds.
In June of 1963, Mrs. Julia Wills of Southern Maryland Oil donated a 1958 Ford tanker. After much work by the firemen and a new paint job by Donald Skinner, the truck was placed in service at the Department’s first tanker, Tanker 106.
The first new piece of equipment was a 1963 American Le Franc pumper which was purchased for $26,360.00 was put into service in August of 1963. It was Engine 103.
The proud owners drove the truck through the town showing everyone what their contributions had help them obtain.
In September, 1963, land for the new firehouse was purchased from Mabel Elder for $400.00. Francis Burch then began drawing the floor plans for the new building. At a total cost of $30,000.00 construction soon began and in the summer of 1964, the building became the new and existing home of the Department.
In April of 1966 a 1953 GMC pumper was purchased for $3,800.00 and called Engine 102. A 1967 International Brush truck was purchased for $13,000 and placed in service as Engine 104.
Soon after moving into the new fire house, it was decided to do something special for the children in our area. For the first time, Santa arrived in Bel Alton, not on a sleigh but on Engine 103. This has become a yearly event.
A few of the original members got together to reminisce about the beginning of the fire department. Their conversations drifted from the serious side of the beginning to the funny things that happened. Some of the memories consisted of the following:
- Fred Hayden left his false teeth on the dinner table and Maryann had to deliver them to the fire scene.
- Francis Burch could not find his size 7 boots and borrowed Frankie Swann’s which were size 13. He had to clear a culvert and in doing so left the boots behind and landed in a briar patch.
- Howard Townsend was planting tobacco when the fire siren blew. As he continued in what he was doing, he made the turn he noticed that both plant droppers; Jimmy Garner and Jimmy Long had jumped off the planter to answer the call.
- As Santa stepped off the truck for his first visit to the firehouse, 2½ year old Gus Bowling promptly walked over to Santa, pulled on his coat. He said “Daddy!”, it really was his Daddy but how did he know?
I am sure that if you were actually there while they reminisced that they had more stories to tell and understand all that they gave for the cause of the Department.
The company no longer operates out of the garage, but now operates and runs from their brick structure. It also provides the space for the Ladies Auxiliary to hold dinners and other special events to raise funds for the company.
Enthusiasm continues to prevail at the fire department. The struggle has been long and hard, which proves that a small community can work together and triumph. Even though Bucky McDonough said it could not be done, look around you, because we certainly have.
We continue to respond to the emergency needs of this community everyday and night, year round.