Friday night bingo returned to the Westminster Fire Department on Aug. 13, an event that for years had helped build a sense of community and served as an important source of funding for the city’s firefighters.
With the exception of several bingo events in 2007, Westminster has not hosted bingo at the station since 2002. The doors and kitchen at the department’s social hall, 28 John St., open at 5:30 p.m. Bingo begins at 7 p.m. Kountry Kafe and Catering provides the food. Stopping by the station just for the Friday bingo dinner special is already a tradition for some families.
The first reference to bingo in the department’s history comes in the minutes of the department’s Sept. 5, 1928 meeting. At that meeting, it was reported that the department carnival over the July 4 weekend brought in $442.75 from the bingo stand. The stand raised the most money for the department at the carnival.
And yes, the Westminster department did indeed hold an annual summer fundraising carnival until the 1960s — or 70s. Oral tradition has it that the City of Westminster paid the department to discontinue the carnival so it would not compete with Westminster’s annual Fallfest — or one of the earlier versions of Fallfest. It’s important to remember that some individuals held leadership roles in both the city and the fire department.
Of note in the September 1928 meeting minutes is the report regarding expenses for cigars, coffee, and labor. The fire department has used paid personnel to augment emergency response staffing in the greater Westminster area since the 1920s. Back then, the area was considerably larger than it is today. The department also had an ambulance that covered much of Carroll County; the paid personnel expense for September 1928 was $89.96.
While I was attempting to research when the department stopped holding the carnival, I sat and reread the department minutes for hours. They are fascinating. Interestingly, at the July 25, 1969 meeting it was reported: “The City of Westminster has increased the Westminster Fire Department’s budget to 10 [cents] per tax dollar. The Company is now in a position to hire a 4th man. We are interested in interviewing applicants.”
Funding for municipal infrastructure has always been a challenge. In the Aug. 6, 1969 meeting minutes, it was reported, “Chief Ogg reported 19 alarms for the month of July. … He also noted that the company has responded to 154 alarms this year as compared to 160 last year. …”
Today, Westminster Fire Department service calls are running close to 7,000 a year. In an April 2003 letter to the city from the department, it was reported: “In the last ten years, the calls for fire and emergency medical service has increased by 65%. ... The department has a core group of volunteers that are making things work. We are, however, at the point where the volume of calls for assistance and the administrative workload to keep providing the service has exhausted this group. A plan for future growth of the fire department must be made to ensure that the needs of the City of Westminster are adequately addressed.”
An article written by Mary Gail Hare for The Baltimore Sun on October 2, 2005 reported: “In a situation increasingly common across America, where suburban sprawl gobbles up rural areas and their country ways, rapidly urbanizing Carroll is showing signs of outgrowing its public-safety infrastructure.
“Its population has increased by nearly a quarter over the past decade, one of the fastest growth rates in the state. But it still relies on volunteer firefighters, contract paramedics and a patchwork of town police, a sheriff’s department and state troopers assigned to the local barracks.
“Crime is rare in Carroll’s 452 square miles of subdivisions and farms. And volunteers for its 14 fire companies respond promptly to emergencies. But it is the only county in the metro area that lacks its own police department, and one of the largest with an all-volunteer force of firefighters.”
Throughout history, Carroll countians have come together to celebrate family and friendships at dances, suppers, picnics, parades, singing and theater events, church socials, or end-of-summer harvest celebrations. Bingo, fairs and carnivals also serve a greater community purpose by providing an important source of funding for the fire companies.
Of course, Carroll countians love to feast on bingo, carnival and fair food, and the rides exhibits, and entertainment are a great diversion from chores. During the pandemic, local fire companies have adjusted their fundraising methods with modified carnivals and drive-through dinners.
Arts programs and cultural events, fairs and carnivals add to our sense of community and quality of life by bringing people together for a shared experience. They contribute to a community’s broader sense of vibrancy, optimism and self-worth. It is good to see bingo returning throughout the county.
Hope to see you there! For more information see the website www.westminstervfd.org.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.