Denton Volunteer Fire Company
400 South Fifth Ave
Denton, MD 21629
In the very broadest sense, the purchase, in 1809, of the fire equipment, in Denton, is attributable to Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon Bonaparte?
In 1809, Napoleon was continuing to lead France in waging war on its European neighbors. The European Wars meant that for the first time Caroline County, created on the eve of the American Revolution, would be prosperous. This prosperity, in turn, resulted in the first deliberate efforts at fire protection for the evolving "Village of Denton".
The minutes of the Commissioners of Denton, dated April 14, 1809, indicate that the Commissioners voted to purchase fire fighting equipment and took associated action that included the first public laws of the Village of Denton. The fire fighting equipment ordered to be "procured" included two "large" ladders 25' long; a 12' roof ladder; a 15' roof ladder; and two "fire hooks and staves".
Additional handwritten changes to the minutes indicate that some thought was given to the specific firefighting needs of the Village. The number of large ladders was increased from one to two, and the lengths of both of the large ladders and roof ladders were changed.
The minutes of April 14, 1809 direct "that a shelter be built on the Goal (sic) for the place of deposit of the ladders and hooks...". The 1807 map of Denton indicates that the jail was located on the north side of the Green at a point that today would be directly behind the Courthouse and directly in front of the Episcopal Church.
The minutes of April 14, 1809 further direct "that the ladders and hooks, when so procured and done, shall be under the care and directions of the bailiff of the said village....". The word "directions" would seem to indicate that the bailiff was charged with directing the use of the equipment in the event of fire.
The act of the Commissioners to procure the equipment was immediately followed by a resolution to establish a system of "brick pumps" (i.e. wells) along Market Street. The wells and pumps were to be located on Market Street at the intersections of Front (First), Second, and Fourth Streets.
Organized firefighting in Denton began in 1894. However, it is important to note that organized firefighting did not simply spring from nowhere, but rather that it was the result of a combination of events and factors including a disastrous fire in Hillsborough; the inadequacy of the existing fire engine; and the threat of losing insurance coverage on properties in the Town.
Aroused from the complacency by the Hillsborough disaster, the Town government began a series of decisive actions. These action included calling a special Town meeting "to discuss better means for providing protection against fire"; ordering the "complete repair of the old fire engine"; purchasing chemical fire extinguishers as well as making other "temporary" arrangements for fire apparatus; passing special taxes designated for fire protection; initiating meetings with fire apparatus manufacturers; attending demonstrations of potential fire engines; and encouraging the formation of a fire department.
Through the summer and fall of 1894, the aroused Commissioners observed the demonstrations of a variety of engines (actual hand pumpers), rejecting along the way an all-chemical apparatus as well as a Holloway pumper. Meanwhile, the residents of Denton voted for a special tax to pay for a new engine. Finally on August 20, 1894, the Commissioners ordered a large hand pumper manufactured by the Howe Pump and Engine Company of Indiana. The price was $645, with acceptance subject to satisfactory testing. The new apparatus arrived in October 1894 and the Commissioners faced one final problem: Who would operate the relatively "sophisticated" new Howe engine?
The first fire company in Denton was the Quickstep Fire Company, which organized in November 1894 after the arrival of the new Howe engine. The first Fire Chief was N. Alexander Hutson. Other officers included one assistant chief, one foreman, two nozzlemen, and four captains.
The Druckenmiller family was given concerts at the Town Hall "under the auspices of the Fire Department" before November 1894 was over. However, for years to come, the Denton Town Commissioners paid all of the costs for firefighting in the Town. Entries in the Commissioners' minutes include completing payment on the Howe engine (1895); purchasing hose for the Howe as well as the old engine (1896); digging a system of wells for fire protection (1897); owning the engine house (1897); selling the engine house and obtaining a lot for a new one (1898); purchasing hose and couplings to adapt to a new hydrant system (1898); paying $15 per year to maintain the Howe engine (1901); paying for a water tower and water system (1902); buying 500' of hose together with spanners and reducers to adapt to the all-new water system (1902) and paying to have a hose reel built (1902).
With the basic structure in place, the actual drilling of the Quickstep Fire Company began in November 1894. Apparently, most of the fires they would fight would be of relatively routine nature, at least until 1896.
The "Great Fire" of 1899 was second only to the conflagration of 1865 in terms of destruction. The fire started in the Collins Store located at the southeast corner of Third and Market Street. From the Collins Store, the fire burned east on both sides of Market Street to Fourth Street.
The primary problems faced by the firefighters were "seething heat", wood buildings situated close together, and fling shingle fragments. The Town had no alarm system and received no assistance from neighboring towns.
The tactics employed were to deluge adjacent buildings with water using the engine (apparently only the Howe hand pump engine) drawing water from a tubular well installed in 1897, and at the same time to use "watchers" to protect distant buildings from airborne shingle fragments and sparks. Bucket brigades were used, in addition to the engine. Both firemen and residents were actively engaged in fighting the fire.
The firemen appeared to have done everything humanly possible. They reached the scene quickly, used appropriate tactics, and "showed skill and courage worthy of a much larger organization in a much larger town".
Despite their energy, courage, and tactics, a major portion of the Town was destroyed because of factors beyond the control of the firefighters. The only structure between Third and Fourth Streets to survive the fire was the brick-constructed Denton National Bank at the northeast corner of Fourth and Market Streets (today the Jensen Law Offices). At the insistence of insurance companies, the Town was the subject, by 1901, of detailed Sanborn Maps which indicated the fire hazards, fire equipment, and the location, as well as the configuration, of all buildings.
The last "Great Fire" in downtown Denton occurred on December 30, 1935 and destroyed five stores on the south side of Market Street between Second and Third Streets. While many of the circumstances were similar to the previous great fires, this fire represented "modern" firefighting in terms of tactic, equipment, water supply, etc.
Like the fires of 1865 and 1899, the fire started among closely-situated, wood-frame structures and was not discovered until late at night. But in this case, severe weather also contributed greatly to the extent of the fire damage. Bitter cold froze equipment, strong north winds fanned the flames, and high snow drifts prevented the Ridgely and Harrington Fire Companies from assisting with the Blaze.
A principle difference with previous fires was the skill and tactics exhibited by the volunteer firemen. Even operating in the most severe weather, they still managed to save three buildings in the block.
As previously mentioned, in 1894, the Quickstep Fire Company was organized with 52 members. Robert L. Jump served as the first President and N. Alex Hutson served as the first Fire Chief. According to newspaper accounts, they held the offices until 1901. In 1902, the Fire Company re-organized as the Denton Fire Company, with T. Pliney Fisher serving as President and Z. Potter Stele as Fire Chief; both serving until 1913. According to the Denton Journal, the firemen responded, on an average, to 5 to 6 major fires each year. 1914 saw another re-organization with Henry T. Hollingsworth elected as President and S. rank Cole, as Fire Chief; both serving through 1921. It appears from the newspapers, every time there was an election of officers, it was referred to as a re-organization.
The final re-organization occurred in 1922 with Clarence Roe serving as President, and Eugene Anderson as fire Chief. Monthly meetings had been and continued to be on Friday evenings. The Denton Volunteer Fire Company was chartered in September 1923, and joined the State Firemen's Association in 1924.