Fire Hall Burns, Friends Pitch In

July 29, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

OLDTOWN -- The morale of this small mountain town's volunteer firefighters -- not to mention the equipment they need to ply their skills -- has been quickly renewed since the town's fire hall burned to the ground two weeks ago.

That the hall burned down was a freak, ironic accident.

Ever since, the outpouring of help to renew the company has been heartening.

"We haven't missed a call," said Dennis Mallery, ambulance captain and treasurer of the Oldtown Fire Company, pointing to an engine on loan from nearby Flintstone. "Help came right away. We're real appreciative."

Fire companies from Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick and other counties have donated "essential things to fire service," including hoses, air tanks, pants, boots, coats and helmets, said Richard Yinger, president of the Maryland State Firemen's Association.

"Everybody's pulled together real well for them," Mr. Yinger said. "They haven't missed a day, so they're in good shape."

"It's one thing to go on a call to a house fire, but when you come around the curve and see your own fire station burning . . . ," Mr. Mallery said, failing to finish the sentence.

"It's a shock," added Paul Cage Jr., sergeant-at-arms for the 50-member fire company in this Allegany County town. Who would have ever thought our fire hall would burn?" he asked.

All of the company's firefighters are volunteers, about 30 in the "active" category. A power surge caused by lightning resulted in a panel box in the 48-by 78-foot concrete and wood-frame building catching fire about 8 a.m. July 15, said Capt. Nile Walters. Putting the fire out took about 100 firefighters from neighboring West Virginia and Maryland six hours.

Captain Walters said firefighters were able to retrieve the company's six vehicles, including three engines, from the burning building. One of the engines was used to fight the fire until it ran out of water.

But all three engines were damaged extensively by heat and smoke and are now out of commission. A rescue tanker and ambulance are in use -- along with the lent engine from the Flintstone Volunteer Fire Company.

Captain Walters said the building and equipment were insured. Damage to the 35-year-old building was estimated at $300,000. Captain Walters said the company had just finished a second-story addition.

Besides the obvious problem of destroying the home of the fire company, the fire created an even wider loss for the community. As are fire halls in other small towns, Oldtown's was a social center in this remote, Allegany mountain town, the site of parties, wedding receptions, bingo games, school-board candidate forums, dinners and food distribution for the poor.

Churches and community groups in Allegany County and West Virginia are helping the company raise money for a new building. Bingo, dinners and other fund-raisers have been conducted the past two weekends. "All the companies around here are kicking in and doing something," Captain Walters said.

Mr. Mallery said firefighters hope to rebuild elsewhere in the town because the fire company had outgrown its small lot on Route 51, not far from the Potomac River. Firefighters are hopeful a church will donate property. Since the blaze, firefighters have responded to two calls -- a house fire on Main Street and an ambulance call.

"We're not a real busy place," Mr. Mallery said, noting that firefighters respond to about 50 fire and 100 ambulance calls a year. "It's quiet here, but it's important to have a fire company."

The nearest fire stations are about 10 miles away. Oldtown serves a largely rural area of Allegany County east of Cumberland.

"We're the slowest company in terms of calls in Allegany County," he said. "But sometimes something pretty big happens around here."

Like the fire hall burning down.

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