Tag Archives: fire department

A 1927 Accident Takes Life of Harford County Fire Chief

When Maryland Public Television started working on the Conowingo Dam documentary a research question came up about workers killed on the project. Since this matter hadn’t been investigated previously, a registry was compiled containing information I was able locate through archival records.

On Labor Day 2015, I wrote a blog post identifying twelve fallen workers, though I noted that the Darlington Coroner, William S. Selse, told the Baltimore Sun that more than twenty men had lost their lives at the hydroelectric plant. The other day Harford County Genealogist Chris Smithson added to this registry, providing the name of another lost workman. Here is the story.

The first shovel of earth for construction on the Cecil County side was turned March 8, 1926, newspapers reported. Soon some three to five thousand men flocked to the rural area of northeastern Maryland seeking to earn good pay. In addition to those on the Stone and Webster and the Arundel Corporation payrolls at the hydroelectric, there were laborers on the railroad, contractors on roadways, and crews erecting transmission lines stretching to Philadelphia.

To accommodate the incursion of this massive population in the rural, remote area of northeastern Maryland, the two construction companies established large work camps. Since houses and barracks were going up in the boom town, public safety had to also be provided. There was a hospital capable of accommodating about two dozen patients. It had a resident doctor and a staff of nurses, as well as operating and sterilizing rooms.

Conowingo Dam Fire Truck

The fire truck for the Conowingo Dam. source: Conowingo Visitor’s Center

Col. Claude B. Sweezy, the former warden of the Maryland Penitentiary, was the director of public safety. He supervised fire protection, a police force, roads and other things. Under his command, a police force of nine members was headed by Chief Robert Whitney, a former motor traffic officer at the Bel Air Station.

The Conowingo Fire Department, equipped with an engine, protected the works camps and the construction site. Chief George R. Chapman commanded firefighting operations. On April 25, 1927 at 6:05 p.m., he was riding in the command seat on the pumper as it traveled on the state highway in Harford County. The machine suddenly crashed into a roadside bank, overturning and pinning him under the truck. He was dead when taken from under the vehicle, newspapers reported. The Chief, 53, was from Baltimore and he was buried at Loudon Park Cemetery. the death certificate recorded.

Acknowledgement — Chris Smithson, a Maryland Genealogist, brought this loss to my attention and he provided the research. Thanks Chris for helping to remember the worker and first responder who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Here’s a link to the article on other worker deaths. https://cecilcounty.wordpress.com/2…

Advertisements

John Denver, a Past President of the Maryland State Firemen’s Associaton, Talks to the Singerly Listening Station

John Denver (center), in a photo from his time as president of the Maryland State Firemen's Association.  HIs two vice-presidents stand with him.

John Denver (center), in a photo from his time as president of the Maryland State Firemen’s Association. HIs two vice-presidents stand with him.

John Denver, a past president of the Maryland State Firemen’s Association, joined the ranks as a probationary member of the Singerly Fire Company in 1968.  Over the decades, he served the company in many positions, and two years ago he served as in the senior leadership position with the State Association.

In this session with the Singerly Listening Station, an oral history project of the Elkton Fire Department, John shares his stories about the company.  This is a brief outtake from a much longer interview, which is being archived for future projects and research purposes.

Fire & Police Protective Services at Perry Point – The Early Decades

A birds-eye view of the Perry Point Village, from a postcard, circa 1922.  Source:  personal collection

A birds-eye view of the Perry Point Village, from a postcard, circa 1922. Source: personal collection

As the United States advanced plans to support combat in World War I, the federal government purchased some of Cecil County’s most scenic property, the Perry Point estate. This expansive 516-acre tract at the head of the Chesapeake Bay was leased to the Atlas Powder Company early in 1918, and by March the erection of the huge explosives plant was underway.

Along with the production facilities, the company also built a village for the workers. This community contained over 200 houses for workers. Also there was a school, parks, stores, motion picture theatre, church, fire house, everything a modern 20th century town needed, according to the Architectural Review of January 1919.

The 6,500 construction men advanced the work rapidly, but the war ended quickly. So the government converted the plant into a medical facility for the treatment of veterans in 1919. The U.S. Public Health Service managed this hospital, and the Veterans Bureau took over the campus in 1922.

Beginning with the powder plant there was a fire department, which adjusted over time as the purpose of Perry Point evolved. By the late 1920s The Perry Point VAH Fire Department protected the hospital, dwellings in the village, nurses’ quarters, schoolhouse, theatre, club, stores, warehouses, and other structures.

To carry out this protective service, one fire marshal and thirteen firefighters were detailed to the station, four men working a shift, in the late 1920s. The department operated an “American La France pumper, one White Chemical Truck and one American-La France combination chemical and pumping machine, with a Ford light truck” to carry equipment, according to the Perry Point Bulletin, June 1929.

To call out this modern force, 33-pull boxes were distributed around the campus. Pulling the handle caused a large gong to ring out the number of the activated box. While the calls sounded on a bell, a permanent tape punch machine recorded the call box number, too. Test runs revealed a rapid response, as it took 59-seconds to answer the average call, the Bulletin reported.

Another aspect of the Federal protective services was the police department. In the late 1920s, the force consisted of a chief and ten patrolmen. Officers were on duty around the clock. Someone was continuously assigned to the gate, while other men made patrol rounds.

The Perry Point Fire Department, From the Perry Point Bulletin, Feb. 1930 in the collection of the Historical Society of Cecil County.

The Perry Point Fire Department, From the Perry Point Bulletin, Feb. 1930 in the collection of the Historical Society of Cecil County.

A postcard dated April 1922, with the following message:  "Our fire engine house, U.S. Veterans Hospital # 42, Perry Point, MD. :  Source:  Personal Collection

A postcard dated April 1922, with the following message: “Our fire engine house, U.S. Veterans Hospital # 42, Perry Point, MD. : Source: Personal Collection

Another image of the Perry Point Fire Department from a postcard.  Circa:  1920s.  Source:  Personal Collection.

Another image of the Perry Point Fire Department from a postcard. Circa: 1920s. Source: Personal Collection.

Galena Fire Company Launches Ambulance to Provide Quick Service in Cecilton-Galena Area.

If a heart attack or some other medical emergency occurred in Cecilton, Fredericktown, Warwick, Galena or other points along the Sassafras River, the victim had to wait a long time for an emergency medical transport.  So concerned citizens decided to rectify that problem, launching a drive to buy a modern ambulance for the Cecilton-Galena area.

The Galena Fire Company agreed to operate the service, and soon Carroll C. Short of Cecilton handed over to the keys to a modern new ambulance to Chief George M. Newcomb.  The fire company ambulance went in service on December 30, 1953.  Anyone needing prompt emergency medical transport could phone Galena 231, 203, or 368 and volunteers from the Kent County fire company would speed to the scene to provide aid and hasty transport to the hospital in Chestertown or Elkton.

Initially the ambulance was kept at the Sassafras Boat Company.  “Inasmuch as there has been no ambulance for a radius of some fifteen miles from Fredericktown and no doctor thereabouts” the vehicle filled a great need.

Galena Fire Company Ambulance, Cecil Democrat, January 14, 1954

Galena Fire Company Ambulance, Cecil Democrat, January 14, 1953

Calamity Jane Arrives in Cecil in 1953.

Calamity Jane, an all-purpose rescue truck, arrived in Cecil County late in 1953.  This special emergency vehicle was available for use in Cecil, Harford, and Kent counties. The truck had nearly 100 different types of extraction equipment, every imaginable tool, mechanical device and article needed when lives and property were endangered.

It was one of six heavy rescue vehicles Civil Defense stationed in various parts of Maryland.  The truck, a bright and shiny Reo with the familiar red-and blue symbols of CD on it was under the command of rescue squad Captain
W. Andrew Seth of Civil Defense.  John J. Ward, Jr. the chief of the agency said that while the truck was primarily here to “protect the community in the event of an air attack by a hostile power, it could used for any disaster which might occur.”

It had been manufactured by the Reo Motor Company of Lansing, MI. It was capable of carrying a crew of eight and traveling at a speed of about 55 miles per hour.  The manufactured called it a “combination Red Cross ambulance, fire truck and utility company trouble-shooter.”

A major explosion rocked Chestertown in 1954 when the Kent Manufacturing Company’s fireworks plant exploded.  The charred five acres of plant property, leveled buildings, and critically injured workers called for a massive emergency response, and calamity Jane, Cecil’s heavy rescue vehicle, rushed to the scene to provide aid.

CD clamity jane cecil whig dec 3 1953a

Calamity Jane, a Civil Defense Rescue Truck arrived in Cecil County in 1953. It was one of six CD vehicles stationed around the state. Source: Cecil Whig, Dec. 3, 1953

When an explosion charred five acres of the Kent Manufacturing Company Fireworks plant, the CD rescue truck responded.  John Farrell, John C. Cooke, and Andrew Seth, were the crew on the truck.  Source:  Cecil Democrat, July 22, 1954.

When an explosion charred five acres of the Kent Manufacturing Company Fireworks plant, the CD rescue truck responded. John Farrell, John C. Cooke, and Andrew Seth, were the crew on the truck. Source: Cecil Democrat, July 22, 1954.