Chief Slaughter Led Singerly Through a Period of Growth and Commanded Major Incidents

Elkton train wreck, October 1965. Source: Cecil Whig.

Just before 7 a.m. High flames and dense smoke tower over a Chesapeake City fire truck working to contain the uncontrolled incident.. Source: Cecil Whig.

After thirty-seven years of “sudden suppertime departures and early moving arrivals,” Singerly Fire Company Chief Edgar (Spec) Slaughter, Jr. told the Cecil Whig it was time to “hang up his hat” in 1970.  The 53-year-old had been a firefighter at Cecil County’s busiest department for 22 years, eleven of those as the chief.  Before that he fought fires with the Townsend Delaware Fire Company for 15 years.  “I’ll be around if they need me, but to be fair to my wife, well . . . I think I’ve had enough,” he remarked.

Coming up through the ranks in Elkton, he had seen a lot of changes.  Singerly grew from “two pumpers and one ambulance to four pumpers, two brush trucks, two ambulances, and an aerial platform snorkel truck.”

On his watch, he served as the incident commander at two of Maryland’s largest accidents.  Chief Slaughter directed the response to a horrifying crash of a Pan-American World Airways Flight, which exploded in mid-air over Elkton in December 1963.

In the pre-dawn darkness of October 31, 1965, a Pennsylvania Railroad freight train rumbled through Elkton.  As the 118-cars  neared the municipal limits on the western edge of town, 41 of them, some of filled with toxic chemicals and liquid propane, derailed.  The Sunday tranquility in the county seat was jolted by the noise of the crash, which was sending huge flames and dangerous smoke into the sky.

While Chief Slaughter mobilized his forces and requested aid from as far away as Wilmington and Aberdeen, an enormous explosion sent a towering mushroom type fireball into the sky.  Soon 100 firefighters were on hand, struggling to contain the spreading flames.

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Chief Slaughter commands the response of 18 fire companies from three states, while struggling to containing spreading flames and dangerous smoke during the major train wreck. Source: Cecil Whig.

About 7 a.m. the chief ordered an urgent, mandatory evacuation for parts of western Elkton.  The Sunday morning DJ working the early shift at WSER took to the airwaves, broadcasting the emergency information as National Guardsmen went door to door to make sure residents departed immediately.

By 1 p.m. the situation was under control, but it was reported that the fires “would burn all night.”  A spokesperson from the railroad said, “it was the worst wreck he had seen in the last 20 years because of the location and the danger from the burning cars, which were filled with poisons and liquid petroleum gas.”

The election of a new fire chief took place on February 2, 1970.  On that day, Jack Cook, a member for 20 years took command.  After eleven years on the job, Chief Slaughter was able to put away his hat, knowing that another capable leader was taking up the watch.

Chief Slaughter, a respected fire service leader, led the department through a period of rapid growth and served as the incident commander at major incidents.

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At the Elkton plane crash. Source: Cecil Whig

Chief Slaughter, with Firefighter George Robinson.  Source:  Cecil Whig, 1966

Chief Slaughter, with Firefighter George Robinson. Source: Cecil Whig, 1966


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