Fire company to launch its second century Cockeysville volunteers recorded notable firsts

January 26, 1996|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

Because of an editing error, an article in some editions yesterday on the history of the Cockeysville Volunteer Fire Company indicated incorrectly the year of the founding of the Baltimore County Fire Department, which was 1882.

The Sun regrets the errors.


Cockeysville was a distant rural hamlet of 300 people when fire destroyed George S. Jessop's house in April 1896. The nearest county fire station was seven miles away in Towson; no help there.

Mr. Jessop, a prosperous farmer, gathered nine neighbors and proposed that they start their own fire company because the Baltimore County Fire Department, founded just four years earlier, did not have the resources to reach outlying areas.


Tomorrow night, about 200 present and former members and dignitaries will attend a banquet at Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn to launch the centenary celebration of the county's oldest continuing volunteer fire company and install new officers.

"It's great to have the opportunity to serve your community, and having this opportunity to serve in the 100th year is something a little extra," said the incoming president, Elwood H. Banister Jr., who retired in 1994 as the county fire chief. He had a 38-year career -- and 42 years as a volunteer.

Mr. Banister was one of many members of paid fire departments who are volunteers during their off-duty time.

Founded as the Marble Hill Fire Department, the name was changed to the Cockeysville Volunteer Fire Co. -- and its recruiting and service area expanded -- in 1913.

Its first engine was a hand-drawn, 20-gallon tank kept in a carriage house at York and Shawan roads. The hills and valleys made it impractical to haul the tank very far, so in 1898 the company acquired a horse-drawn pumper and moved to larger quarters at York Road and Ashland Avenue, the area where it remains.

In 1990, the volunteers moved into their present red-brick fire house, off York Road.

Over the decades, Baltimore County's volunteer network has grown to 33 fire companies. Their services save taxpayers about $40 million a year -- the estimated cost of career firefighters to replace them, Mr. Banister said.

Unlike in some jurisdictions, he said, there has been no conflict between the career and volunteer firefighters. At fire scenes where both are present, the paid county officers are in command.

Since its formation, Cockeysville has chalked up some notable firsts, he said, including the first free ambulance service in Maryland, and having the county's first and only motorcycle fire apparatus and tractor-trailer fire engine.

As the area has become increasingly urbanized, the role of the firehouse as a community center has diminished -- but the work has expanded, said the incoming captain, Richard A. Gribble, 36, a volunteer since 1975 and career county fireman since 1982.

Last year, with about 1,200 fire calls and 1,400 ambulance calls, Cockeysville was among the county's 10 busiest companies, he said.

Mr. Banister noted that professional standards have been rising since the 1970s, and that volunteers have the same training as career personnel.

Lisa Belbot Kamps, 28, of Butler, the company secretary, started at age 14 with the volunteer Middle River Rescue Squad and later joined Cockeysville. "I was just addicted," said Mrs. Kamps -- a paid county firefighter for eight years until a knee injury forced her retirement in 1993.

But it gave her time to write the "The Centennial History of the Cockeysville Volunteer Fire Company," a 200-page hardback book just published by the company.

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