Since 1878, the Frostburg Fire Department (FFD), a 100% volunteer staffed department, has been committed to providing the highest level of services to their citizens and visitors.
The early days of fire fighting and fire tactics in Frostburg are difficult to trace. It is known, however, the town had a Fire Brigade manned by the citizens who happened to be at the scene when a fire broke out. Men, women and sometimes even children, were the fire fighters of the town. These fire fighters were inexperienced, unorganized and had no or little training; they were a group of citizens doing the best they could with what they had. In most cases, they did little for the structure that was involved but rather concentrated on protecting exposures and surrounding buildings.
For equipment the Brigade had buckets, ladders, and barrels of water placed at various street corners; and a reel with leather hose housed at City Hall then located at the junction of North Water Street and Borden Road (Rankin Hill). Swabs were used also. These looked like mops and were used to swat out fires on roofs. They were dipped in water buckets and passed up ladders to men on the roof. “Bucket Brigades” were soon to come representing streets and sections of the town. They gave themselves patriotic names, and often during Sunday afternoon outings, competed in athletic events.
Another tactic frequently used by the fire fighters, was to remove the fuel. Large hooks were attached to ropes and thrown over the roof of the burning building; then with manpower or horsepower, pulled the building down to prevent it from spreading. As the Department was formally incorporated and organized on paper, it also became more organized in the field. Firefighting was no longer a “drown it with water and hope it doesn’t spread” operation. More tactics for firefighting as well as prevention came into common practice. With the invention and use of horsepower and motor-power, the time factor was coming onto the fireman’s side. Not only did he get there faster, but once he was there, he operated more efficiently with his up-to-date equipment.
At about twenty minutes past one o’clock on Saturday, September 5, 1874, a fire broke out in the loft of the store of Beall & Koch, on Union (Main) Street, nearly opposite of St. Michael Catholic Church. The flames gaining headway soon extended to the adjoining roofs of Keller’s Store and the old Franklin Block. This row of buildings, including Marx Wineland’s extensive store, next caught fire, and being very dry structures, were in a few minutes a sheet of flames. From the Franklin Block, the fire moved southward on Broadway, and crossed Mechanic Street to a large stable owned by the Hoblizell heirs. From Mechanic Street, the fire swept around on Water Street, in both directions. The Cumberland fire engines arrived about three o’clock and after a sharp struggle, conquered the flames. In all, at least 40 businesses and residences were destroyed or received damage from the fire.
In all, at least 40 businesses and residences were destroyed or received damage from the fire. Click here to view the full story and a diagram of the 1874 conflagration.
Following this catastrophic event, while the embers were still smoldering, a meeting was held to organize a fire department. Months of discussion and planning preceded permanent organization of the Frostburg Fire Department, No. 1 with the following officers elected: President, George B. McCulloh; Secretary, R.K. Mason; Chief, George H. Wittig and Chief Engineer, John M. Zimmerly. A committee called on the Mayor to ask for official recognition of the organization as the fire department of the town and for a hose reel and other fire-fighting equipment. The requests were granted along with permission to use the City Council rooms for meetings.
The Frostburg Mining Journal published in its weekly paper, the following article pertaining to a special meeting held at the Frostburg City Council Chamber on Monday, March 18, 1878.
March 18, 1878 – A number of young men of this place, met in the City Council Chamber, with a view to taking into consideration the feasibility of organizing a new fire company, for the better protection of property. A motion was made to limit the number of the company to thirty-five members. A committee was appointed to wait on the Mayor and Council and ascertain what aid they would give the company.
The following are the officers elected to serve the ensuing term:
Inside Officers: President, George B. McCulloh; Vice President, Thom G. Mason; Secretary, R.K. Mason; Treasurer, Frank Maurey; Sergeant-At-Arms, John Jefferies.
Outside Officers and men: Chief, George H. Wittig; Assistants, John B. McCulloh and John A. Spades; Nozzlemen, Wash McCulloh, Frank Maurey, Charles Sourbough and Alfred Jeffries; Assistants, John Jeffries, Charles Merril, Walker Keller and T.S. Preston; Plugmen, George B. McCulloh, D. Skelly, John Donahoe and Henry Albright.
The new organization then undertook a program of improvement including an alarm system, a training regiment and new equipment. With permission of the Reverend Father Schmidt, the bells of St. Michael Church were used to sound the alarm.
The following appears in the April 6, 1878 Frostburg Mining Journal.
The Fire Alarm – Hereafter, in case of fire, the large bell in the St. Michael Church steeple will be tolled, instead of three being rung as for church related matters.
Most of the young men of the town were taken in as members and drills were held every Saturday with Chief Wittig in charge. The first equipment purchased was a hose reel cart and hook & ladder truck.
After the “Gas House Fire” on Grant Street in the late 1880’s the Department saw the prime need of a water system and was instrumental, in 1891, in persuading citizens to approve a bond issue to build the basic parts of the present water system. The laying of new water mains and building a one million gallon reservoir on Big Savage Mountain completed the system in 1910.
In 1886, when a new City Hall was built at 20 South Water Street, the Department moved in and referred to this building as Central Fire Headquarters. There were two apparatus bays on the first floor and a room on the second floor was provided for meetings. This two-story building later became the police station followed by the headquarters for the Frostburg Area Ambulance Service. Today, it is undergoing renovations by the Armstrong family to restore it to its original firehouse look. The FFD was housed here until 1924 when we built the three-story building next door at 22 South Water Street. Again, the first floor was for apparatus and the second floor for meetings. The third floor was rented for functions but in 1954 was completely remodeled, so the town’s teenagers would have a safe environment to hold their weekly dances. From 1955 – 1968 it was utilized as “Teen Town” where over 250,000 paid admissions were collected.
Added to accommodate the growing FFD fleet was a fire station on the east end of town. On October 30, 1966, a 4000 square foot building, located at 298 East Main Street, was officially dedicated. Since it’s opening, it has always housed the Department’s Aerial Ladder Truck and a Pumper.
The FFD operated out of the 22 South Water Street location for 88 years until June 21, 2012 when the bell was removed from the belfry and the doors locked in preparation for the move down the street. On July 14, 2012, the Department’s Headquarters officially moved into its newest location at 75 South Water Street making this our 4th location on Water Street!
The FFD is composed of two stations with a primary response area of approximately 10 square miles and a population of over 15,000. The Department proudly serves a diverse population, which includes protecting the 5000+ students and faculty that attend and work at Frostburg State University. We also respond to incidents in the surrounding communities, assisting the neighboring fire rescue departments in Clarysville, Mt. Savage, LaVale, Midland, Shaft and Finzel.
“We believe the pursuit of excellence and demonstrating high professional standards are critical to our mission.” The FFD is a highly-trained force of men and women (in some cases 2nd and 3rd generation) who are proactive in their approach to the challenges and rigors of the day to day responses. We also understand and appreciate the rich traditions of the Frostburg Fire Department, which we are committed to continuing while serving with great pride
The motto of the Frostburg Fire Department, No. 1 reads: OUR DEEDS OUR REWARD. The men who manned the fire-fighting equipment down through the years have given their time and effort in a manner that gives meaning to those words. Always a leader, the men and women of today’s FFD, continue to carry forward those rich traditions of the Department.