The Providnce Volunteer Fire Company, established in 1947, is a 100% volunteer organization. It provides fire suppression, rescue, collapse rescue, and emergency medical services to the citizens of Baltimore County, Maryland and surrounding areas.
"Holy Smoke, the church is on fire!" Well, that probably never was said, but the Providence Volunteer Fire Company's first response to a fire emergency shortly after the Company was founded in 1947 was to a chimney fire at The Providence Methodist Church on Providence Road at Seminary Ave. Fortunately, several members of the congregation also belonged to the new fire company, and so they rushed to the home of Alexander Cockey, one of the founding members who lived where the station is now located and returned to the church with the small surplus civil defense pump on a trailer which was the only equipment the new company had at that time. The fire was extinguished in short order without damage to the church building. Even if it was not an incident of historic importance, it was an important step for the Company since some residents of the Providence area had questioned the need for the new volunteer company. Word of this success spread quickly throughout the community; support for the new organization increased, and the Company's place in the neighborhood was assured.
On April 13, 1948, a Certificate of Incorporation was notarized and sent to the State of Maryland, thus formalizing the creation of the Providence Volunteer Fire Company. The Certificate noted that Fred Breidenstein, Raymond Woodward, William E. Guy, Alexander M. Cockey, and Ian Pryde "...associate themselves with the intention of forming a corporation...to be called THE PROVIDENCE VOLUNTEER FIRE COMPANY." and listing the first members as Fred Breidenstein, Carter Guy, Alexander M. Cockey, Valentine Muth, Albert M. Winter, J. Lindsay Johnson, and Paul E. Simms. The new corporation with 30 Directors was to "...To organize and operate a volunteer fire association to control, prevent and limit damage by fire in Providence, Baltimore County, Maryland and adjacent territory..."and "...to purchase or otherwise acquire, hold, mortgage, pledge, sell, transfer, or in any manner encumber or dispose of fire engines, hose wagons, hook and ladders, chemical engines, fire alarm systems and any other kind of fire fighting equipment and apparatus necessary for use in fire fighting....". With only a pump on a trailer, but already with a history of successful fire suppression activity, the Company was formally established.
On May 17, 1948, the Board of Directors of the new organization met in Towson and adopted the corporate seal, which is still used, and the first Bylaws for the Company. The group also elected Valentine Muth as the first President, Fred Breidenstein as Vice President, Alexander Cockey as Secretary, and Albert M. Winter as Treasurer.
Unfortunately, the only death of a member directly resulting from any Company activity occurred immediately prior to the first parade when the latch on the heavy side-gate of a horse van, which was to be a part of the parade, suddenly opened and allowed the gate to swing down, crushing the operator, Mr. Ike Bayne. After the accident, the parade for that year was canceled, and both the parade and the carnival were discontinued after two or three years.
In 1958, the Company again ran a food stand at the Timonium Fair, but the proceeds were less than had previously been earned ($118.02, half of which was given to the Ladies Auxiliary who helped in the operation of the stand.) That seems to have been the last year a stand was operated, though Company minutes reflect discussions of operating a stand in later years.
The funds raised by the food stand at Timonium, the carnival profits, by dinners, auctions, and by various other activities of the members, assisted by the Ladies Auxiliary, made the purchase of the Company's first "real" engine possible. This was a 1913 White, purchased from the Powhatan Beach Volunteer Fire Company in Anne Arundel County for $100. The vehicle had a chain drive and solid rubber tires. Since the Company had no station, the vehicle was housed in an unused part of The Providence Motor Company, which is still located at the northern end of Providence Road and still operated by Mr. Clarence Simms, a founding member. In May of 1950, a siren was mounted on a pole at Providence Motors to call members for an incident response. Later, an additional pole and siren were added on the property of Alexander Cockey, the site of the present station, and a third siren was placed at various locations within the area, being moved as the surrounding community grew.. Since many members responded to alerts in their own cars, the siren gave short blasts if the incident was south of the engine's quarters, and long blasts if the unit would be going north. Most calls for assistance came directly to the station from those near an emergency, but this system had problems. The Minutes of the meeting of December 5, 1951 note that the Captain had contacted the phone company about an operator who had informed a caller that she did not know that the Providence Volunteer Fire Company had a phone. However, this procedure remained in effect until November, 1953 when the County Fire Department began to use radios and a system for activating the sirens remotely from the Towson Fire Dispatch Office was instituted and accepted by the Company.
Shortly after the arrival of the White, the Company received the first call for the "new" engine, a dwelling fire on Notch Cliff Road. In those days, the Providence community was much smaller, and many residents arrived to watch the new volunteers at work. Unfortunately, there had not yet been time to test the recent purchase, and the Company and community soon discovered that much of the water which entered the hose at the pump end found ways of exiting the hose before reaching the nozzle. However, the quick response of the local company and the efforts of the fire fighters were successful in limiting damage, and the value of the company to the community was proven again.
To supplement the limited abilities of the engine, Company Minutes show authorization to purchase 3 of the 'Indian cans" many members had began to carry in the trunks of their cars . These cans held about 5 gallons of water and had a small hand-operated pump. While a help in the field and woods fires that were more common in those days, they proved little value in dwelling fires, and it was obvious that more modern equipment was necessary.
At a meeting on January 23, 1950, the members approved accepting a loan from Mr William Guy, who owned the store on the property south of the present station (presently an assisted living home). This loan (repaid by October of that year) made it possible for the Company to purchase its first new, completely equipped engine, a 1949 Chevrolet with a more powerful pump, longer and stronger hoses, and a more complete set of fire fighting accessories. The total cost for this unit was about $5000. (For comparison, our latest engine, fully
The new unit continued to be housed at Providence Motors. Unfortunately, this space was not completely satisfactory for use as a fire station. There were no sleeping quarters, so fire fighters had to drive to the station or the incident from their homes or places of employment before they could respond to a call, thus delaying response time. Additionally, a serious leak in the roof meant the engine had to be covered with a tarp in inclement weather. This became especially important after the vehicle was equipped with a radio when it was necessary to purchase a special cover to protect the radio equipment. A lack of storage space, office space, and other necessities made it obvious that the Company would have to find new quarters. Therefore, on August 27th, 1951, a Building Committee was formed to look for suitable property for a new station and for ways to finance the purchase of the land and the construction of the building. Shortly thereafter, Alexander Cockey, a founding member, sold the Company the ground where the station now stands, and the Company built its first station. The footings for the new building were poured on March 5,1956 and construction continued for the remainder of the year. When the building was complete, the Ladies Auxiliary gave the Company its first Providence Volunteer Fire Company sign. The first use of the building seems to have been for a meeting of the Board of Directors on February 1,1957, but heating was not installed until February and sanitary facilities were not completed until late the following year when an addition was constructed to house the necessary amenity. That first station had room for two emergency vehicles and included sleeping quarters for eight men, thus increasing the protection the Company afforded the surrounding area at night. Unfortunately, the new station, while a great improvement over the previous quarters, lacked office space, a maintenance area, and cooking facilities. Members continued to be summoned to an emergency by a siren on a tall pole in front of the station as well as by calls directly to the station by those near an emergency incident.
As the size of the community grew and the number of emergency responses increased, it became obvious that the safety of the residents required both more equipment and an expanded facility that would allow more members to remain on duty at the station. Therefore, in the 1980's work expanding and improving the station began, and the present station, including offices, a kitchen, a day room, larger and improved sleeping quarters, and engineering space resulted. It was dedicated on October 21st, 1985. This is the present station. It seemed the Company's problems with its physical facility were over. But, unfortunately, the following June, the new facility was seriously damaged by an explosion just above ground level on the building's south side. A small fire was discovered in the main electrical panels. While members were attempting to extinguish the fire, a short circuit caused an explosion which blew a five foot wide hole in the building's lower story and injured three members, one of whom was knocked unconscious by the force of the blast while another received a broken arm. All three volunteers were taken to the hospital by ambulance while other members extinguished the blaze. Fortunately their injuries were not life threatening, and they were quickly released. An investigation later attributed the blaze to a short circuit in one of the main electrical lines of the building. While seriously damaging the structure and causing slight injury, the explosion resulted in no interruption to the protection offered the community, and the station was quickly repaired.
The expansion of the station was only the most visible sign of the Company's growth, but the organization was changing in other ways also, expanding its equipment, training, and services to meet the needs of the residents whom it protected.
As recreational use of the near-by Loch Raven Watershed increased, a four wheel drive brush unit, equipped to respond to fires in the woods and fields in the community, became a part of the Company's inventory. Later, increased automobile traffic, resulting from the construction of more residences and roads and the construction of the Beltway necessitated the purchase of the floodlight vehicle, needed for many types of night emergency operations. Through the years, the equipment has been regularly upgraded to assure the highest level of protection possible. Photographs of the various vehicles are included in the Company Scrapbook, found later in this publication.
As the facilities and equipment have improved, so has the training of the members. Training during the early years of the Company was mainly done by Company officers, often with other neighboring volunteer stations. A series of courses with the Long Green Volunteer Fire Company mentioned in the Minutes of early Company meetings suggests that training was an important activity for members early in the Company's history. The Minutes of a June, 1956 meeting report the receipt of a letter from the Fire Marshall reporting that five Providence members had received the Basic Training Award. Photographs from slightly later show members proudly displaying their certificates of accomplishment from one of the first classes of the University of Maryland's newly created Fire Rescue Institute.
This tradition continues. Before being allowed to respond on an emergency, every member is now required to have hazardous materials training, classes in blood-borne pathogens, to be certified in CPR, and to complete the basic fire fighting course through either the Maryland Fire Rescue Institute of the University of Maryland or the Baltimore Fire Rescue Academy. Almost every member has taken additional advanced courses in fire fighting and rescue operations of various types. Additionally, many members are certified by the State of Maryland Emergency Medical System as Emergency Medical Technicians. The increased number of medical assist and automotive rescue calls received by the Company makes this especially important. Training, in the station and through County, State, and Federal programs such as those offered at the National Fire Academy in Frederick County has been and continues to be an important element in every member's professional responsibility.
Many of the emergencies to which the Company has responded over the years have been dwelling fires within our community. However, as a ready source of trained and disciplined personnel, Providence frequently has been called upon to assist neighboring communities with major emergencies. One of the first such calls to a major incident not in the Providence community came in 1968, when Company members and equipment spent three days assisting The Baltimore City Fire Department during the riots which followed the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. In January of 1987 Providence Volunteers were among those involved in rescue operations at the Amtrack train wreck near Middle River. Commendation certificates on the walls of the station attest to the professionalism displayed by our members in both of these incidents. The Company was also active in fighting the Schiller's Furniture Store fire which took the lives of three County fire fighters and in the later rescue and recovery operations.
Less spectacular, and less well remembered except by those who were there, was the Cloverland Dairy Hog Farm Fire which broke out early in the evening on New Year's Eve and which lasted almost until dawn on a very cold New Year's Day in the early 70's. That December/January holiday fire is remembered not only because the stubborn blaze in the old wooden buildings was difficult to extinguish but mainly because, to fight the fire, fire fighters had to stand in the yard used by the animals. The mixture of mud, water, and "droppings" left by the pigs produced a material with an odor which made everyone present wish they were elsewhere. One member remembers, "My wife wouldn't even let me into the house until I had removed all my clothes on the side porch - in the cold. The smell was terrible. Everyone had to wash their gear three or four times."
Another fire which is clearly etched in the memories of the members who were there is the fire at the shopping center on Loch Raven Boulevard, discovered about 5:00 am, which possibly had been smoldering all night. Not only was the stubborn blaze difficult to control, but the very low temperatures caused the water from the hoses to freeze, thus making standing and walking difficult and dangerous. Shortly after returning to the station, the members were sent to a warehouse blaze in Timonium, an incident which also lasted for several cold hours.
Commendation Certificates for the Company's actions at the April, 1976 Everrett Building fire in Towson, at the Pecora's Restaurant fire on April 8, 1980, and the Saint Joseph's Hospital fire in January of 1981 are further indications of the professionalism and dedication which are indicative of the Providence Volunteers.
The close relationship between the Company and the community has been reflected not only in the members' efforts to protect the residents' lives and property, but also in the many other ways that the volunteers have been a part of the neighborhood. For example, the tradition of having Santa Clause visit every street in the community on Christmas Eve is first mentioned in the Minutes of the meeting of January 5,1959. Those Minutes suggest that the tradition started the previous month should be continued. It has been. Since then, Santa's visit on the engine has been an event looked forward to by young and old residents and by the members.
The Providence Volunteers help the community celebrate other holidays as well. For example, The Company and the Ladies Auxiliary have for many years hosted an annual Halloween Party, with prizes for various categories of costumes, and the annual Easter Egg hunt for neighborhood youngsters has always been another popular event. Refreshments, games, and prizes are all important parts of these activities. Additionally, many residents, no longer youngsters, still remember their ride with their friends through the neighborhood in one of our fire engines as an important part of their birthday party at the station.
In 1957, the station was approved as a poling place for local and national elections. Additionally, groups such as cub scout troops and community associations frequently have used the fire station for their meetings. Fire safety programs, both at the station for visiting groups and in local community schools, have also always been an important contribution to the safety of the our residents and are another sign of the relationship between the volunteer fire fighters and their neighbors.
The Company's awareness of its past does not replace its focus on its present responsibilities. Equipment is constantly up-dated. The most recent additions include two new KME engines, capable of pumping 1000 gallons of water a minute, and a fully-rescue certified and equipped 110 foot ladder truck, presently the tallest in Baltimore County. In addition to fire suppression and residence rescue, this vehicle is fully equipped for vehicle, water, and other types of rescues. The equipment Truck 297 carries includes hydraulic jacks capable of lifting 20 tons, air bags with 10 ton lifting capacity, acetylene torches, first aid equipment, and the "jaws of life" vehicle rescue tools. Placed in service in November 1997, the truck has already proven its value on rescue assignments in both Box 29 and surrounding areas.
The Company was founded and nurtured through its early years by a small group of residents who believed that service to their community was important and who were willing to give their time and talents to help their neighbors. Their vision, dedication, talents, and hard work made The Providence Volunteer Fire Company possible. They established the mission of the company and its relationship with those living in the area, and they passed that vision down to those who followed them. For 50 years the focus of the members has been on the protection of the residents of the community. That has not changed; that will not change. Residents know, no matter what the problem, when The Providence Volunteers say "When you need us, we'll be there” we mean it.
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