Hampstead fire company celebrates 100-year history

Annual banquet to mark changes and honor current firefighters

April 14, 2000|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Browsing through the 100-year-old history of Hampstead Volunteer Fire Engine and Hose Company No. 1, one easily sees the changes over the years.

The fire company's first piece of equipment was a horse-drawn, four-wheel hook and ladder wagon that cost $75 in 1900, a far cry from the 1978 ladder truck that cost $250,000 to refurbish in the early 1990s.

It was May 27, 1899, when the 13 founding members held a carnival to raise money to start a fire company for the town.

"It was just a one-day thing, but they raised $67.30 and about 3,000 people attended -- that was a big crowd," said Kevin Hann, public information officer for the Hampstead fire company.

Today, the annual six-day carnival in August brings in tens of thousands of dollars and is the company's largest fund-raiser.

Tomorrow night the fire company will formally begin its 100-year anniversary celebration at its annual banquet.

"We'll honor the top responders, there will be proclamations from state, local and county governments and new inductees will be put into the Hampstead Hall of Fame," Hann said. "The past fire queens have been asked to attend. It will be an evening to reminisce."

From firehouse to carpets

The fire company charter was approved Feb. 12, 1900, and the cornerstone laid for the first firehouse at 1214 N. Main St. on Sept. 6, 1902.

The original building, with a renovated front, now houses Towne Pride Interiors, a carpet store.

The current fire station at 1341 N. Main St. was dedicated May 4, 1975. It houses two fire engines, a ladder truck, a medical unit and two utility trucks. Instead of a hand-rung bell to announce a fire call, a siren alerts members, as well as motorists in the area.

In the first 100 years, the company has had 14 presidents, one of whom, Dr. Edgar M. Bush, served from 1901 to 1954 and was the town's doctor.

"He lived in town. Everybody went to him, he was the town doctor. He gave his time," Fire Chief Herbert Raver said. "He had a son who became a doctor, too."

Major disasters

Two major fires stand out in the fire company's history.

On June 21, 1921, Keller's Garage burned, before the town had a water system.

"By 2 a.m. June 22, the fire had spread to both sides of Main Street and it looked as if the entire business section of the town of 1,500 was doomed," reads the fire company history book.

A bucket brigade was set up to protect nearby buildings. When it was over, Keller's garage and house and Merryman Overall Co. were destroyed.

A second devastating fire occurred Feb. 28, 1977, when Zemco burned. Housed in an old cannery on Main Street across from Ralph Avenue, Zemco ground rubber tires for track surfacing.

"Every fire company in the county moved on that one," Raver said. "Even if they didn't come up here, they transferred."

He recalled that "everybody said the stuff wouldn't burn, but the rubber was floating out on top of the water and burning. They said they could see the smoke all the way to Cockeysville."

Firefighters were on the scene for more than 24 hours, then returned to the site 31 more times over the next month for flare-ups. Fire engines that got too close to the fire were damaged, and trash cans across the street melted from the intense heat.

"But we did save the Cadillac that was parked out front," Raver said.

Edgar Stagner, company first vice president, has a large photo album of pictures taken during and after the Zemco fire that will be displayed tomorrow night at the banquet.

In its early days, Hampstead would run 10 to 15 calls a year. Last year, the fire company took 626 fire calls and 929 ambulance calls.

"It's big business today compared to what it was," Hann said. "Fifty-three years today [as president] and you'd be ready for the funny farm."

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