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The mission of the Pocomoke City Fire Company is to protect the lives and property of Pocomoke City and its surrounding area, through emergency response, education, and prevention.
Much of the information found here is taken from the Pocomoke Fire Company 100 years of protection booklet distributed during our 100 year anniversary celebration in October 1988. The information was prepared for the 1988 booklet by George Henderson Jr.
The early history of the town from James Murray's book:
In 1670, the town was called for many years, Stevens' Ferry, as the ferry crossed the river from the Somerset side to the foot of the Pocomoke bridge on the Worcester side. Approximately 1683, the town was called Meeting House Landing since during that time a Presbyterian house of worship was erected at the foot of Willow Street. Around 1700, a tobacco warehouse was built and the names Warehouse Landing and Meeting House Landing may have been used until 1780 when the name was changed to Newtown. In 1865, Newtown was incorporated and elections were held under the new charter. In 1878, the town commissioners requested the legislature change the name of the town to Pocomoke City, the present-day name.
Somerset, Worcester, and Wicomico Counties
The three counties above were originally Somerset County. In 1742, Worcester County was chartered from part of Somerset County. In 1867 Wicomico County was chartered from Somerset and Worcester counties.
The major streets in town were known as Cedar Hall Rd, Snow Hill Rd, and Virginia Rd. Cedar Hall Rd is currently Second Street and Cedar Hall Rd. Snow Hill Road is known as Front Street and Linden Avenue today, and Virginia Rd is now Market Street. All of the streets connected to Market Street which began at Stevens' Ferry. Other streets such as Willow and Vine Streets, as well as some alleys existed in the days of Meeting House Landing.
During the Civil War era, the town began to grow and merchants started erecting wooden structured buildings in which to conduct their business. Market, Willow, Vine, Front, and Second Streets had business establishments as well as residences.
The fire of 1866 was the first fire recorded by the historians of Newtown. No record of losses has been discovered in any documents pertaining to this fire. A newspaper was in operation in Newtown in 1865.
Citizens of Pocomoke assisted the town of Salisbury in the "Great Salisbury Fire" in 1868.
The fire of 1888 occurred on November 22 at 4 pm. The fire started in a flue at Dr D.J. Truitt's residence on the southwest corner of Front and Market Streets. Citizens using a bucket brigade and possibly a hand pumper attempted to control the blaze. As the fire advanced on Market Street and Front Street, the towns of Salisbury and Crisfield were summoned for help. With the aid of these communities, the fire was extinguished. A list of the properties that were destroyed in the fire were listed in the Democrat Messenger of December 1888. The loss was estimated at $300,000 which included 79 buildings.
On December 18, 1888, the town commissioners called a special meeting to discuss purchasing a fire engine steamer. The citizens were asked to vote on this matter, and the vote was in favor of doing so. The town commissioners chartered a fire company and appointed W.H. Davis as chief. Chief Davis reported to the commissioners that volunteers were willing to serve.
The next fire that occurred in Pocomoke was the fire of 1892. This fire originated on Willow Street in a store occupied by James Bonneville between midnight and daybreak on July 6. Within a few hours, almost the identical territory destroyed in 1888 was again reduced to ashes. 69 buildings were demolished and many persons were homeless. The loss of fire was reported to be about $250,000.
From 1892 to 1930 the fire company housed the steamer in a firehouse on Willow Street. Pictures are available that show the firehouse before the fire of 1922. The Clapp and Jones steamer is shown in this picture. The story has been told of a black man that tended the fire for the boiler on the steamer. It has been said that he would have the steam up on the boiler within two blocks of the engine house. A story told by the old-timers relates that Snow Hill called for assistance of the Pocomoke Steamer and the steamer was loaded in a barge and towed to Snow Hill. For some reason, the black man called "Box Iron" did not make the barge. When the barge, with the steamer, arrived in Snow Hill, Box Iron was standing on the wharf with his tender in hand, waiting for the steamer to be unloaded. Box Iron had learned of the fire and had run on foot from Pocomoke to Snow Hill, approximately 15 miles from Pocomoke City.
The fire of 1922 as quoted by the Worcester Democrat on April 22, 1922, as "The most disastrous conflagration in Pocomoke's History." The April 18 fire originated in an alley in the rear of the store owned by N. Davis and Sons and adjoining the stables of Frances M. Wilson on Maple Street. It swept away the main business section of town, many residences on Second, Willow, and Market Streets, and the entire residential section of Front and Bridge Streets. Not one home on the latter named thoroughfare remained standing when the holocaust had spent itself.
"Neighboring towns sent help including fire departments from Snow Hill MD, Crisfield MD, Princess Anne MD, Seaford DE, Berlin MD, and Ocean City MD. It was their heroic and timely assistance that the Parker House, the Ford House, Cloggs' Garage, the business blocks on Clarke Avenue from Maple Street to Callahan's Store and the west side of Market Street from Matthews & Lankfords' to the Empire Theater are still standing. They, with our local fire company, saved this entire section of our town, perhaps our entire city."
The Pocomoke Fire Department did an outstanding job under the direction of Chief Andrew Pickens. One of the stories relating to this fire by the firemen of the past was that the city water pressure and supply on this day was not sufficient to stop the original fire. By the time the engines were moved to the river and the lines were laid, the fire had spread and was out of control. Another fire department arrived to help and connected their hose to the fire hydrant on the corner of Second and Market Streets. When they turned the fire hydrant on and realized that no water was available, the heat and flames were so intense that their fire hose burned before they could move it.
The main reason the history of the Pocomoke Fire Department is so sketchy is that the firehouse burned in the fire along with all records. The records of the fire department after 1922 are still kept by the department.
After the fire of 1922, the town became more aware of the need for equipment and the means to fight fires. A new brick firehouse was erected on Willow Street by the city to house the volunteers. Since the town had experienced four major fires the buildings had been mostly wood frame. It was decided more masonry buildings should be built in the business section to help prevent the spreading of fires.
As the town rebuilt over the years, the fire department began to grow. A photograph from 1926 shows four pieces of equipment including the Clapp & Jones Steamer purchased by the town in 1888. The other engines shown in the photograph were a chemical truck, a hose truck, and the 1923 1000 GMP American LaFrance pumper that was purchased by the town. This pumper was designated as Pumper # 1 and is still owned by the Fire Company and used in parades and shows. The 1923 was replaced by the town in 1956 with a 1000 GMP American LaFrance open cab pumper. The 1956 was replaced in 1978 by a 1250 GPM Seagrave Pumper and it is still engine 101. In 1929 the city purchased a 1000 GPM American LaFrance pumper and this was designated as Engine # 2. This engine was replaced by the city with a 1000 GPM Cab Forward American LaFrance in 1964 and was rehabilitated in 1984. This engine was sold to the Saxis VA Volunteer Fire Department when we took delivery of our 1998 Pierce 2000 GPM Pumper. The 1964 is still in use by Saxis Fire Department.
The Pocomoke Fire Company has been called to assist many rural areas as well as towns in Wicomico, Somerset, and Accomac counties. From the 1930s to the 1950s, the small communities did not have a fire department and Pocomoke had to respond to fires in Stockton, Girdletree, Rabbitgnaw, Greenbackville, Atlantic, Oak Hall, Saxis, Sanford, New Church, Westover, and Rehobeth. In the winter the drivers had sheepskin coats and wore goggles to protect them from the cold. The volunteers traveled many miles to help those in need.
In 1931 the ladies auxiliary was officially formed. This began an era when the auxiliary would have public dinners to raise funds for the fire company. These funds were used mostly to purchase protective firefighting equipment for the volunteers. As the fire company became more involved in protecting the large area more equipment was needed but the old engine house on Willow Street would not accommodate more equipment. The fire company asked the mayor and council to furnish them with a new firehouse. Mayor E Wilfred Ross stated that he was seeking funds from the Public Works Administration to construct a new city hall and firehouse. In 1937, Fred Henderson was appointed by the mayor and council to seek a new location for a firehouse. The firehouse was built on Fifth Street, between Market and Walnut Streets. Dedicated September 1939, the building has a meeting room, dining hall, and kitchen on the second floor. This was where the ladies' auxiliary served public dinners. It has always been said you never went away hungry and the food was delicious. Today's public request by the public demand is their famous chicken and dumpling dinners.
This is the firehouse that was dedicated in 1939. This is our current firehouse. The front door has been changed and the equipment doors have been made taller for the new equipment. In 1939 there were homes on both sides of the firehouse. Over the years that property has been purchased and the structures have been removed, allowing room for parking. Klein & Mary Lee Leister own the parking lot to the left of the firehouse, and they are very kind to allow us to use part of their lot for parking.
With the additional space for equipment, in 1939 the fire company received a combination 500 GPM pumper and ladder truck. This truck was sold in the 1960s. In 1945 a 750 GPM American LaFrance combination pumper and chemical truck. This engine was designated as Engine # 3 and was replaced by the fire company in 1969 with a 750 GPM pumper with a 750-gallon water tank. This engine was in service until 1990 when it was replaced with a 1990 Pierce Lance having an enclosed cab for the fire crew to ride in.
Around 1949, the company purchased a Ford front mount 500 GPM truck and was designated engine # 5. In 1954 the company replaced the old # 5 with a 750 GPM Ward LaFrance pumper having a 750-gallon water tank. This engine was replaced in 1974 with a 1000 GPM American LaFrance Pioneer truck having a 700-gallon water tank. The new engine number was changed to # 4 since the old ladder pumper truck was not replaced. This engine remained in service until it was sold in 1978 to a fire company in Pennsylvania. This engine was replaced with a 3500 gallon Ford diesel tanker and this truck is still in use today as T-1.
In 1971 the fire company purchased a Chevrolet Step Van to use as a rescue truck. This truck is currently in use by the town public works, as it was replaced by a used Ford rescue truck purchased from the Ocean City Fire Company in 1983. This unit was replaced in 1990 by an International Salisbury rescue which is the current R-1.
Rescue equipment has come into play as the fire department is called on to remove a cat from a tree, to providing help in disasters, from explosions to hurricanes. Most of the rescues involve auto accidents.
The Ocean City Fire Company donated a 75-foot aerial truck to the fire company which was given back to Ocean City Fire Company in the early 1990s. The aerial is still used by Ocean City on the boardwalk, as it is the only "lightweight" aerial they have that will go onto the famous boardwalk.
In 1978, the Ladies Auxiliary presented funds to the company to purchase a Chevrolet four-wheel drive pick-up truck, to have a tank and pump to be used in brush fires. This unit was replaced in 1996 by a Ford F-250 pick-up. The 1978 Chevrolet is still in use by the town's public works.
The ambulance company of the Pocomoke Fire Company was started in 1954 when Mr. Henry Watson of Watson Funeral Home said he was not able to provide ambulance service to the city. That year he donated a Cadillac ambulance to the fire company. Clayton Lambertson was the first ambulance captain. The original Cadillac ambulance was replaced by two other Cadillac ambulances during a 15 year period. In the late 1960s, a Chevrolet Sentinal ambulance was purchased by the fire company. Over the years many other ambulances served the fire company. The first paid ambulance personnel were hired in 1973, with Don Malloy as full time and Hannah Malloy full time. The fire company and ambulance company split into two separate companies in April 1997. The fire company gave the ambulance company the two ambulances it had at the time, and they relocated to a newly constructed building on Eighth Street of Pocomoke City.
The first training classes that members of the Pocomoke Fire Company attended were in 1939. Chief Henderson contacted the University of MD and Curt Laramore, instructor for the university, taught the first basic fire course in Pocomoke. Since that time members of the Pocomoke Fire Company have the highest training per member as any company in the state. Firefighter one and CPR are required to be completed while on one-year probationary membership. The members of the company have spent many hours in training programs presented by the university as well as the MD State Firemen's Association, Delmarva Firemen's Association, and the Eastern Shore Firemen's association. The fire loss for the company speaks for itself, and it is to be construed that this training is the end result.
Fire prevention in the fire company was organized in 1946 under the direction of Chief Henderson. This has been carried on over the years with the company visiting many businesses in pre-planning and discussing safety, fire prevention, and fire drills. Fire prevention activities are carried on in the schools during fire prevention week in October, with the company personnel presenting demonstrations as well as children visiting the firehouse.
The fires of major importance that have taken place since 1922 are: Marvel Package Company, Clarke Ave; Ben Dryden's Mill, Market Street; G.D. Bull Hatchery, Market Street; Tilghman Fertilizer Plant, Clarke Avenue; Business Section (4 Stores) Clarke Avenue (Maple to Walnut); G.D. Bull Frozen Food Locker, Clarke Avenue; Feldman's Furniture, Market Street; Stephen Long School, Fifth Street; Pocomoke Elementary School, Market Street; Pocomoke Pharmacy, Market Street; and Bethany United Methodist Church, Market St.
The history of the Pocomoke Fire Company from 1922 to date can be found in newspapers as well as the books kept by the fire company. The history prior to 1922 is still not complete as many records were lost in the 1922 fire. Anyone with information about Pocomoke Fire Company history is invited to contact us with the information.
NOTE FROM THE WEBMASTER.......
(THANKS, GEORGE. YOU DID A GREAT JOB)
IF ANYONE HAS ADDITIONAL HISTORY AND/OR PICTURES, AND WOULD LIKE TO SHARE THEM, PLEASE CONTACT THE POCOMOKE CITY VOLUNTEER FIRE CO. THANK YOU.