The Sykesville Freedom Volunteer Fire Department watched a fire destroy a piece of its history Saturday and didn't sound a siren.
Instead of dousing the small blaze, members cheered as officers burned the mortgage on the company's 9-year-old building. The ashes are preserved in an urn.
"There was a thunderous ovation," said Rosemary Wagner, recently elected public relations coordinator. "A lot of members thought it couldn't be done."
Final payment on the $91,722.05 mortgage, held by the county, was not due until 2001.
"I wrote the original check to pay for this building, so I remember the amount exactly," said Ms. Wagner, who has served on the building committee since 1984.
The burning was kept a surprise to Dennis Beard, building committee chairman, and all but a few in the department, which numbers about 200 volunteers.
Ms. Wagner credits Virginia Smith, departing department treasurer, with "wise, financial investments" that enabled the company to pay off the mortgage six years ahead of time.
Fund-raisers, including country-western dances and weekly bingo games, also helped.
"All money from every event went right back to the department," Ms. Wagner said. "The Ladies Auxiliary contributed $30,000 in this year alone."
With the quarterly mortgage payments behind it, the department hopes to move ahead with renovation projects and a possible expansion of the building on Route 32 at Freedom Avenue.
"We need a bigger kitchen and hall," Ms. Wagner said.
In the spring, the department hopes to take over a neighboring building and convert it into offices.
"Right now we have one office with three desks, tons of filing cabinets and no privacy," Ms. Wagner said.
The ceremony at the fire hall also was a tribute to Francis Stem, a lifelong volunteer at the department, who died Jan. 15 at Sykesville Elder care at age 81.
"We wanted the mortgage marked paid before Mr. Stem's funeral," Ms. Wagner said. "He was very much a mover in the construction and in every phase of the process."
Last Wednesday, the day of the funeral, Ms. Wagner and her husband, fire company President Bill Wagner, arrived at the County Office Building early to make the last payment. The couple had all documents signed and returned before 9 a.m. They expect a refund on the interest, but are unsure of the amount.
The Wagners returned to Sykesville in time for the 11 a.m. services for Mr. Stem.