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Dayhoff: Pleasant Valley Fire Company celebrates 90 years

Many years ago Carroll County’s community leaders made good use of the winter months to get together and plan for fire protection. Fire companies in Carroll County have long been the heart and soul of the community. Folks usually come together in a community for public safety and protection, commerce, education, worship and to fulfill social needs.

However, there can be no community without public safety. Firefighters, police officers, and public works employees are the public servants who help provide the protective umbrella over a community as folks go about the business of family, commerce, worship, and education.

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Frequently the leadership of a community is also the leadership of the fire company – and the fire hall often becomes the center of its community. One such central component of community life will be celebrated next month, as the Pleasant Valley Fire Company marks its 90th year of community service.

This photograph of the Pleasant Valley Volunteer Fire Company was taken on May 17, 2015, from St. Matthew’s United Church of Christ. Photo by Kevin Dayhoff and Caroline Babylon.
This photograph of the Pleasant Valley Volunteer Fire Company was taken on May 17, 2015, from St. Matthew’s United Church of Christ. Photo by Kevin Dayhoff and Caroline Babylon. (Kevin Dayhoff)

Today there are 14 volunteer fire companies in Carroll County: Mount Airy, Hampstead, Westminster, Manchester, Taneytown, Pleasant Valley, Lineboro, Union Bridge, Reese, New Windsor, Harney, Sykesville-Freedom District, Gamber, and Winfield.

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The Westminster Fire Engine and Hose Company No. 1 began in 1823. Union Bridge Volunteer Fire Company in 1887. Manchester’s Fire Engine and Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 was incorporated in 1893. The Taneytown Volunteer Fire Company was organized in 1897. Hampstead Volunteer Fire Company was formed in 1900 after preliminary work dating back to 1899.

The Lineboro Volunteer Fire Department was formed in 1915. Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Company considers its founding year as 1921. It was 1931 when 30 residents joined together to start a fire company in Pleasant Valley.

Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Company – Sykesville’s fire company started in 1933. The New Windsor Fire and Hose Company No. 1 came into being in 1908. In 1948, the fire company re-organized. The Reese Volunteer Fire Company was incorporated on April 7, 1948.

Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association Chaplain Deacon Charles Barnhart explained in a May 2017 article I wrote about Jake Caple, a founding member of the Reese and Community Volunteer Fire Company, “Jake joined the Reese fire company as a charter member, which began in his mother’s garage in 1948…”

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In southern Carroll County, the Feb. 6, 1948, edition Democratic Advocate reported that, “Preliminary steps looking to the early construction of a firemen’s building and community hall were taken Monday night at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Sykesville Volunteer Fire Company.”

Harney was home to about 250 people in 1951 when the volunteer fire company organized in town. Winfield and Community Volunteer Fire Department first formed in 1964. Gamber and Community Fire Company organized Aug. 22, 1963, and incorporated May 11, 1964.

In this 1948 aerial photograph of Pleasant Valley, taken by George Gorsuch, who lived in town and was an officer in the Maryland Air National Guard, the canning factory, the Pleasant Valley High School, the Leister Grist Mill, and the Zepp farm on the right in the photograph, are all clearly visible. The Pleasant Valley Volunteer Fire Company moved to the Zepp farm March 18, 1983, when a new station was officially dedicated. Photo courtesy of Ed and Becky Leister.
In this 1948 aerial photograph of Pleasant Valley, taken by George Gorsuch, who lived in town and was an officer in the Maryland Air National Guard, the canning factory, the Pleasant Valley High School, the Leister Grist Mill, and the Zepp farm on the right in the photograph, are all clearly visible. The Pleasant Valley Volunteer Fire Company moved to the Zepp farm March 18, 1983, when a new station was officially dedicated. Photo courtesy of Ed and Becky Leister. (Kevin Dayhoff)

At the dawn of the 1900s, many of the ingredients of a thriving community in Pleasant Valley were already in place. The town had a post office. The Pleasant Valley Cornet Band was incorporated in 1885. The Pleasant Valley Bank took care of the community’s banking needs. According to a history of St. Matthew’s United Church of Christ, there was a schoolhouse on South Pleasant Valley Road as early as the 1870s.

In a February 2006 Westminster Eagle column, I wrote that the first Pleasant Valley Community Fire Co. fire hall was the “Patriotic Order of Sons of America” Lodge Hall, purchased in January 1946 for $2,800, according to Pleasant Valley volunteer firefighter Steve Wantz. The company operated out of that building until March 18, 1983, when a new station was officially dedicated.

Of course, ice cream also plays a role in any successful community, and the Pleasant Valley Creamery Company fulfilled that community responsibility for the town’s residents.

However, as important as ice cream is, it is of little value when it comes to protecting a community from the constant danger to property and person that fire presents.

The first mention of firefighting in Pleasant Valley, according to PVFC’s website, is “a hand pulled wagon fashioned from a spring wagon (that) was built in 1929 by Charles Geiman.” That wagon was “equipped with three hand-made poplar ladders and twelve buckets that hung on each side.”

The PVFC was incorporated on March 20, 1931. It is around this time that a number of fire companies were formed in Carroll County: Lineboro in 1919, Mount Airy in 1926, and Sykesville in 1933.

According to information provided by Steve Wantz, it was on April 13, 1931, a public meeting was held at the “Patriotic Order of Sons of America” Lodge Hall. Forty-six members joined the original company and paid dues of $1.20 per year. You’ll notice many familiar names, as generations of families maintain a history and tradition of public service and leadership.

“Charles Geiman and M. Clingnan were elected as marshals. The first officers were: President Daniel Leister; Vice President Edward Wantz; Secretary/Treasurer Harry Myers; Assistant Secretary/Treasurer Guy Myers and Keith Myers… The first piece of motorized equipment was a 1933 GMC/LaFrance, 350 gallon per minute pumper, purchased for $3,000.25.”

In full disclosure, I serve as the chaplain and the public information officer for the Westminster Fire Department and I have been writing articles about the fire service for many years. Portions of this discussion have been published before.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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