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Hagerstown firehouse is saving its history

September 21, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Amid the chaos and mess of a renovation project at the First Hagerstown Hose Co., two leather buckets sit on a cluttered table.

You might miss them among the confusion. You could easily miss their significance.

The buckets are about 200 years old, dating back to before the historic fire company even began.

Back then, they were required features in everybody's home, according to fire company Capt. Terry Brown.

When a fire broke out, the entire community would rush to form a bucket brigade.

"You just don't find these anywhere," Brown said. "We're really proud of them."

The buckets are just two of dozens of historical items scattered throughout the station, at 33 S. Potomac St.

Brown said fire officials hope to renovate an unused room in the fire station into a small museum, displaying the items - and the company's history.

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The First Hagerstown Hose Co. formed in 1815, when volunteers met at St. John's Lutheran Church, in the second block of South Potomac Street.

At the time, small fire departments were cropping up throughout the country. They were only slightly more advanced than the traditional bucket brigades that protected homes since Colonial days, Brown said.

The First Hagerstown Hose Co. was officially incorporated by an act of the state legislature in 1822, making it one of the first fire departments in Maryland.

Although other departments in Maryland had operated before the First Hose Co., Brown said, it is the first in the county to be formally recognized.

The original department constitution, stained by age, hangs framed on a wall in the game room.

"This is about as early a fire department as you'll get," Brown said.

Firefighter Justin Mayhue said the business community heavily supported the company during the early years.

"When the fire alarm would go off, a lot of people would leave their businesses and homes," he said.

They would drag hand-pulled carts and carry buckets to the fire.

A tour of history

The game room features a pool table, vending machines and other modern conveniences to help firefighters relax between blazes.

But the room also is a tribute to the company's history. Pictures line the walls on both sides, depicting firefighters and equipment throughout the years. Certificates and awards from hose-reel competitions also adorn the walls.

A walk upstairs to the fire company's meeting room reveals more treasures.

Enclosed in glass cases are objects that include:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> A chief's trumpet from 1800. Before two-way radios, commanders communicated with firefighters by barking orders into the silver trumpets, which amplified their voices.

"You couldn't put a price tag on that," Brown said.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Two battery-operated, hand-held lanterns.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> A German, metal, hand-held fire extinguisher

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> A fire alarm triangle from 1800. "Sort of like the dinner bell," Brown said.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Tin fire helmets from 1839.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Leather fire hoses from 1853.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Nozzles, marking the beginning of the modern era of fire fighting.

Inside the glass case sits a frayed book, whose pages contain the minutes of old meetings, dating back to the company's inception.

The entire recorded history of the company is there, with one exception: an unexplained gap during the Civil War.

"We don't know if the company disbanded, or if they met secretly for fear of being caught," Brown said.

More than brick and mortar

The building itself was constructed 150 years ago.

The rug in the meeting room is nearly a century old, as are the pressed leather on the walls and the ornate, tin ceiling.

"The building has a lot of character, a lot of class. There's so much history," Brown said.

Ghost stories abound.

Older members of the fire company tell tales of unexplained activity.

Brown's favorite holds that firefighters have heard the building's doors swing open and shut moments before a fire call.

"That's the one story that gives me the goose bumps," said Brown , who added that he, too, has heard unexplained noises late at night. "For some reason, I almost believe that."

Mayhue, who is researching a book on the fire company's history, said he is skeptical.

"I've been here for 10 years. I haven't seen any ghosts yet," he said. "If we have ghosts, I'd like to talk to them."

There are plenty of other tales and memories.

Jack Trovinger, 78, recalls the horse stables that used to be where the TV room is now.

A member of the fire company for 53 years, Trovinger used to come to the department as a boy with his father, who was also a member for 50-plus years.

When the fire bell rang, each of the two horses would automatically walk underneath a hanging harness.

"That was unbelievable," he said.

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