On June 23, 1947, the men voted to purchase land in the 15400 block of Old Columbia Pike from Mr. John Seibel and Mr. Harvey Burton. On November 10, 1947, the land (approximately 4.5 acres) was purchased for $3,943.50.
The first piece of equipment, a 1947 International John Bean high pressure pumper was purchased and placed in service on September 3, 1947, at a cost of approximately $8000. The truck was later housed in a 16′ x 28′ cement block temporary fire station, dedicated on March 23, 1948, which was later utilized as the maintenance shop until the station closed in 1995.
On November 1, 1947, the Department answered its first alarm, which was for a house fire on Soper Road (now known as Greencastle Road) at the Elizabeth Ruse residence. The house had been struck by lightning. During December 1947, the Department answered five fire calls. Today in contrast, the Department answers an average of 450 calls per month.
On May 30, 1949, a four bay fire station was completed and dedicated at a cost of approximately $35,000. During 1971, the building was completely remodeled to provide room for additional equipment purchased over the years and also to provide suitable office space and sleeping quarters for the personnel required to be on duty at night.
The first ambulance was a used 1946 Cadillac, purchased for $1500, and was placed in service on April 6, 1954. With this purchase, the “Burtonsville Volunteer Rescue Squad” was established.
On July 2, 1959, the first rescue boat was received as a donation from the Burtonsville Lion’s Club and placed in service. The first rescue truck was placed in service on September 7, 1959.
The Department used various means of fund raising over the years such as raffles, dances, bingo, Christmas tree sales, etc. Today the Department utilizes direct mail fund raising, hosts an annual carnival and sponsors a photo fundraiser to raise money to purchase needed equipment.
In May 1964, it was suggested that the department should consider a paid firefighter during the day, and in January of 1965, a committee was appointed to formulate and develop rules governing the hiring and employment duties of paid firefighters. Beginning in February 1966, applications were received for employment. The first paid firefighter reported to work in July 1966 and the second firefighter in August of 1966.
The Department continued to thrive as a volunteer fire department for many years until the late seventies when volunteer membership began to dwindle. By 1980, the Department requested that the County take over all operations and requested full career staffing. The County government was unwilling and unable to fill the Department’s request. Seeing that the community’s needs were not going to be met by the County government, quick and decisive action was needed to set the Department back on track and on the road to recovery. During the next five years under the leadership of Chief Charles Snyder, Deputy Chief Michael Kerr, Assistant Chief Leslie Adams, Sgt. John Pignataro, and small group of young dedicated volunteers, the Department was returned back to a thriving volunteer organization. Chief Kerr became the Department’s Fire Chief in 1983 and served in that capacity for a total of fifteen years.
During the late eighties the County began planning for the construction of a new fire station at the intersection of Old Columbia Pike and Briggs Chaney Road to replace the station at 15430 Old Columbia Pike. This station had been scheduled for construction in the fire/rescue master plan for many years and was to include the addition of ladder truck and medic unit service from the new location. It is interesting to note that the Burtonsville Volunteer Fire Department purchased the land which the new station was to be located years earlier and had turned the property over to the County in the late seventies.
During the planning phases of the new station, the County was also evaluating ladder truck and rescue squad service throughout the County. The original plans for the new station only included three bays and the Department soon found out that the County apparatus plan no longer included a replacement Rescue Squad for fire station 15. The County had tentative plans to eliminate Rescue Squad service from fire station 15 upon relocation and the addition of ladder truck service. This was planned even though Squad service was vital to the citizens of Burtonsville and surrounding communities and at that time, the section of Route 29 covered by Rescue Squad 15 was considered one of the most deadly in the entire state. Once again quick and decisive action was needed on the part of the BVFD leadership and it was soon determined that the Department would purchase it’s own replacement Rescue Squad so that both ladder truck and squad service would be maintained in our service area. Hence, in addition to other fund raising activities, the Department hosted it’s first annual carnival in 1991 and began to develop specifications for a new vehicle.
In the meantime, Department leadership also realized the potential problems that could be encountered with the requirement to staff new ladder truck service, in addition to rescue squad service, with competent and experienced personnel. So, with the assistance of then Montgomery County Department of Fire and Rescue Service First Deputy Chief Jon Grover, a reserve ladder truck was identified that could be utilized that could be used for training and placed in service on a part time basis. The vehicle was a 1969 Pirsch with a 100-foot aerial ladder. The vehicle needed significant repairs and needed to be fully equipped. The membership set to the task of acquiring equipment, making needed repairs and even donating money out of their own pocket so that the vehicle could be painted white at Maaco. After many hours of hard work and training, Truck 15 was placed in service for the first time, from the hours 1900 to 0500 hours on January 30,1992. As staffing capabilities improved, the Department requested and received permission from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Commission to place ladder Truck 15 in service full time on May 13, 1993.
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In the summer of 1993 the Department suffered a significant set back by the U.S. Department of Labor when they ruled that Burtonsville volunteers that were also employees of the Montgomery County Department of Fire and Rescue Service could no longer volunteer for the independent volunteer departments. The ruling was administered after the County Firefighters Union, Local 1664, filed a complaint with the DOL designed to eliminate a large cross section of volunteer firefighters throughout the County. The Union veiled that attack on volunteers with contention that career personnel could be coerced by the County Government to volunteer. No coercion was ever proven and in fact, those volunteers that did attempt to continue to volunteer prior to the ruling were under extreme pressure at all times by the Union and Management to cease their involvement with the local volunteer fire departments. This ruling hampered the retention of our volunteers and subsequently placed the community in jeopardy due to this unjust situation. We continued to work to have this ruling overturned and we were finally successful in that endeavor in November 2001. While we were successful, we will never recover from the damage done by this Union attack on volunteers, and unfortunately expect more of the same in the future.
The new fire station was completed and fire/rescue operations moved to our present location on March 20, 1995. The old station was provided to the County through a rent-free lease to house the Fire Investigation Unit and the Montgomery County Police Auto Theft Unit. The agreement with the Fire Investigation Unit ended when they moved to a larger more modern facility and the old station was subsequently sold in March 2002. The proceeds were invested to support our fire/rescue operation in the future and a large parcel of land is still retained by the BVFD to the rear of the old station.
The Department placed a new rescue squad in service on June 9, 1996. This is the first vehicle that was purchased without the use of tax funds in at least thirty years. With this success, the Department immediately went to work on developing a set of specifications for a replacement ladder truck.
Subsequently, the BVFD developed it’s own apparatus replacement plan for all other apparatus. The first aerial ladder truck purchased by the Burtonsville Volunteer Fire Department, also without the use of any tax funds, was dedicated and placed in service on October 25, 1998. Next, a pumper was purchased and placed in service in November 2000.
Training, always a priority within the Department, saw an EMS milestone achieved in 2001, when EMT Susanne Breeback was the first BVFD member to complete the paramedic training course and become a nationally registered paramedic.
While the BVFD was committed to purchasing front line apparatus, County support in the form of reserve apparatus was rarely available for our primary services. In the summer of 2003 BVFD apparatus was out of service for maintenance and mechanical issues with no reserve apparatus available. Station 15 was left one pumper and one EMS unit to cover the Burtonsville response area. This situation was extreme and considered an emergency by the Administrative and Operational Officers of the BVFD. It was decided that the apparatus replacement plan would be expanded to include the acquisition and/or retention of reserve apparatus purchased and maintained by the BVFD solely for use at Station 15. Subsequently, a 1996 Ford ambulance was purchased that had previously served in Harford County, Maryland, a 1988 Pierce 100 foot heavy duty aerial ladder was purchased that had previously served in New Rochelle, New York, and finally a 1988 Ford Saulsbury Rescue Squad was purchased that had previously served the Queenstown VFD in Queen Annes County, Maryland. Reserve apparatus was no longer an issue and complete fire and rescue service was now guaranteed in the Burtonsville response area.
The Burtonsville Volunteer Fire Department continued to purchase fire apparatus and in October 2008, took delivery of another Pierce Pumper. This marked the final transition to all suppression apparatus being owned by the BVFD. The last piece of County owned fire equipment, a 1998 Freightliner/Emergency One pumper was returned to the County in the winter of 2008. The new pumper was dedicated to Chief Michael R. Kerr, the longest serving Fire Chief in the history of the BVFD.
Shortly after the BVFD moved in to the station at 13900 Old Columbia Pike, BVFD leadership realized that even though the facility at the new location was a significant improvement, the Department still lacked adequate bunkroom space to support appropriate staffing levels for a station that was required to provide engine company, ladder company, heavy rescue and ALS staffing. The first CIP request for consideration to expand the bunkroom and provide classroom space was sent to the County a little over a year after we moved into the new fire station. After many years of resubmission, the County Council finally approved this request in June of 2003. This request was only approved due to the leadership and support of Councilmember Marilyn Praisner. Construction began on this addition in June 2009.
The new addition was completed in 2011, adding 10 new private dorm rooms, a laundry room, and a large training/multi-purpose room. The new training room was dedicated to Councilwoman Marilyn Praisner, whose steadfast support was instrumental to its completion. The new training room has enabled us to host several Fire Rescue training classes and drills onsite for our personnel and for the surrounding local fire stations. The new private dorm rooms are occupied by our dedicated live-in members.
Not long after the BVFD was founded, Auxiliary Membership became another way of supporting the Department. For over 20 years, the original Auxiliary hosted a myriad of events and provided support to the organization. In 1979 a second wave of Auxiliary Members came together Louise Dell, Carol Pignataro and Linda Kerr brought the Auxiliary back into existence and made it a powerful and positive part of the BVFD in the 1980’s – 1990s. Chief Kerr’s father and Life Member Kevin Henderson helped build the first Canteen 15 (a converted step van) which responded to many calls to support first responders. It was followed by Rehab 15 (a converted RV) that Auxiliary Members used for several years.
In more recent years, Auxiliary Members helped with community events and helped raise funds for the BVFD. The most successful fundraiser was the popular family portraits taken in the Fire Station. Auxiliary Member efforts helped raise funds for utility vehicles, power lift cots, and Lucas devices, just to name a few notable items over the years.
As the traditional Auxiliary canteen service was discontinued many years ago and organizational changes became needed, the BVFD transitioned to having all non operational Members fall under “Associate Membership” status.
Simultaneously, the Membership passed a motion to establish the “Louise Dell Distinguished Service Award” to recognize the top non-operational Member each year, while also honoring and remembering Louise and all past Auxiliary Members.
Louise Elizabeth Dell joined the ladies’ auxiliary of the BVFD in 1964, when her husband was a firefighter. She held multiple volunteer offices in the auxiliary, including president for 16 years.
In addition, she was president of the auxiliary of the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association for 12 years. She also held offices with the auxiliaries of the Silver Spring Volunteer Fire Department; Lansdowne Volunteer Firemen’s Association in Baltimore County, where she was named auxiliary president emeritus in February; Hyde Park Volunteer Fire Department in Baltimore County; the Baltimore County Volunteer Firemen’s Association; and Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association, which includes five mid-Atlantic states.
Louise was also president of the auxiliary of the Maryland State Firemen’s Association and was assistant secretary of the association for two years. She also served as office manager of the association’s legislative office in Annapolis.
Louise was truly a dedicated and positive supporter of the fire rescue service, until her death at age 76. She was quite the role model for Auxiliary Members. Louise epitomized the historical support role of the fire service auxiliary and will help us remember that piece of BVFD history.