*by Donnie Gardner (June 2018)
The community of Riverdale Heights was subdivided in the year 1920 from farmland owned by the Stephen family.
The community was slow in developing, and in 1925, after a series of mysterious Saturday night fires put the town on the defensive, a committee was formed to see about organizing a fire department.
The committee consisted of Clifton S. Kernan, Tom Flanagan, Marion W. Watts, and Joe Zottoli. The first temporary organization was formed with Clifton S. Kernan as Chairman and Lawrence W. Nelson as Secretary-Treasurer.
The following are the first charter members of the Riverdale Heights Volunteer Fire Department:
H.W. Baughman, A.C. Boxwell, Sr., H. Bryant, Charles B. Carson, E.O. Closuit, A.H. Colvin, Edward Dorrelle, William H. Feldbush, Thomas G. Flanagan, Charles B. Ford, Charles Gale, Ted C. Gardner, Sr., H.W. Gibson, Walter E. Hardester, Mack Henderson, Rex Henderson, Martin P. Hughes, Clifton S. Kernan, E.A. LeLacheur, W.H. McGinty, James P. Morris, Lawrence W. Nelson, Charles Pugh, John S. Reed, J.F. Sharrets, S.E. Shackleford, K.L. Thompson, D.M. Wagener, M.W. Watts, J.G. Wheeler, William Willour, George C. Wilsher, George Wilson, Charles N. Winters, H.S. Yinger, and Joe Zottoli.
Following the adoption of the Constitution and By-Laws, Ted C. Gardner, Sr. was elected the department’s first Chief.
The first meetings were held at Willours Store, and then the meetings were held and the trucks were housed in Chief Gardner’s basement.
Borrowing a hand-drawn chemical truck from the Mount Ranier Volunteer Fire Department, the new organization quickly purchased four 50-gallon chemical tanks from a Washington warehouse.
The first firehouse was started in the fall of 1927 without a cent in the building fund and completed through the energy, determination, and cooperation of the members. The cement blocks were made on site by firemen using Mr. Nelson’s hand block machine, from gravel hauled by other members from the Eastern Branch in a converted Model “T” affectionately referred to in the old minutes as “Leaping Lena.”
Feeling a pinch for space, plans started to build a new firehouse in the property that we owned from 60th Pl. to 61st Pl. The $100,000 price tag had us “stopped” for a while, but through the determination of our members, our present building was built in 1956.
Many changes have happened throughout the years. Many challenges have threatened our existence. But we have persevered, and we serve with gratitude, compassion, and pride.
In 1926, the Department purchased its first motorized piece, a 1-ton Ford Model “T Hose Wagon. The members mounted two 30-gallon chemical tanks on the chassis.
Our first pumper was a used Hahn bought from the West Annapolis Fire Department in 1932. A new International chassis was purchased in 1935, and a pump and truck body obtained from the Silver Spring Fire Department was mounted on it.
This pumper proved invaluable in the forest fire service. The Riverdale Heights Volunteer Fire Department was one of the first anywhere to carry and use 1 ½-inch and 2 ½-inch hose whereby multiple streams can be used in a fire from a single source supply.
In 1944, a brand new Hahn pumper was purchased.
In 1947, an award-winning 1931 Buffalo was purchased from the Riverdale Fire Department. It was used both as a pumper and a forest fire truck. It was loaned out to the Chillum Fire Department and then later sold to the Kentland Fire Department in 1953.
In 1952, a Seagrave 750 G.P.M. pumper was purchased, followed by another in 1953.
With the population still growing in the 1960s, we had to start replacing our aging fleet by going out and purchasing a 1962 750 G.P.M. pumper fully equipped for $33,000.
In 1953, a 1954 Seagrave was ordered and saw service until the mid 1960s. It was sold to M.F.R.I. (Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute) as a training vehicle. It was then bought from M.F.R.I. by Charles N. Black III, Life Member of R.H.V.F.D., and sat in a garage until it January of 2008, when he donated it back to the department, and it arrived back home.
After many attempts to rehab the pumper and many years later, Linthicum-Ferndale took ownership of the pumper in an agreement that they would rehab it to as close as they could to its original state. One of the conditions was to be able to display the pumper if possible, when needed.
In 2015, the department requested the pumper to be present at our 90th Anniversary celebration, but the leadership was not able to get it down there. They then decided to make an offer for the purchase of the pumper, and finally in June 2016 it arrived back home to stay as Engine 135.
In 1972, twin 1000 GPM Maxim pumpers were bought. In 1981 and 1982, Engine 131 and 132 (The Maxims) were sent to Pierce for rehab.
In 1986, it was decided to start replacing the aging fleet once again, so the department designed a new engine and sent it to Pemfab-Eagle for construction.
In 1987, the department took delivery of a 1987 Pemfab-Eagle engine 133. Meanwhile, 132 was sold. Engine 131 Maxim-Pierce was sent to Yankee Coach for yet another rehab. The company just couldn’t seem to part with it.
In 1995, twin KME pumpers were ordered and delivered. These two pumpers used the last two Maxim cabs available on the market and saw over 20 years of service!
In 1999, because of falling membership, the Company decided to purchase a squad to attract new members, so we purchased a 2000 Horton-Freightliner. The surrounding companies were not happy about the purchase, especially the squad companies, so they campaigned against the pending purchase, but the county cleared the way for it.
The squad saw a lot of action, but by 2007, because of falling membership and lack of funds, the Company fell behind on the payments, and due to both pumpers being used as collateral for the squad, we were in danger of losing all of our apparatus. Thanks to a loan from the Bladendsburg Volunteer Fire Department, we were able to pay all debts off, sell the squad, pay them back in full, and begin rebuilding the department.
With a very aging fleet and diligent work by the leadership, in November of 2015, the Company ordered a 2016 custom-built E-One Typhoon from Patriot Fire in Grasonville, Maryland, and placed Engine 131 in service on January 31, 2017.
In October 2016, they purchased a 2002 Pierce Dash from the Branchville Volunteer Fire Department. Engine 133 was placed in service on April 6, 2017.