Mailing Address: PO Box 264 - Mt. Rainier, MD 20712-0264
Street Address: 3716 Rhode Island Avenue, Brentwood, MD 20722-1434

Phone: 301-985-5411    Fax: 301-985-5411
Email: bunkerhillvfrc@bhvfrc.com

"An authorized 501(c)(3) corporation"
 

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Margaret Miller for getting our history up to date. Margaret put in a tremendous amount of time, effort and work and her efforts will not be forgotten... thank you. For a pintable copy of our history click here. You can also click on the photos to enlarge them.


HISTORY OF THE MT. RAINIER VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT, INC. 

Mount Rainier, Maryland is a suburb that shares a border with the northeast portion of Washington, DC.  In 1910, development in Mt. Rainier, Maryland concentrated near the streetcar station at the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue and 34th Street.  The area surrounding the station became the community's downtown, with buildings housing both shops and their owners.  In an effort to secure better service for their growing suburb, a group of early residents banded together to pursue the idea of incorporating the Town.  The citizens petitioned the Maryland State Legislature, and the Town was incorporated by Charter granted on April 14, 1910.  The census shows the population at the time of incorporation at 1,242 residents, a 2,384% increase from the 50 residents just eight years earlier.

Less than a year after Mt. Rainier was formally incorporated, many of the same enterprising citizens, who were instrumental and responsible for that monumental achievement, met in the kitchen of the home of Mr. John H. Klein (Klein's Bakery), who lived at 34th Street and Bunker Hill Road. In February, 1911, the Mt. Rainier Volunteer Fire Department was created.  Among those present at this meeting were John H. Klein, William H. Vanneman, Frank H. Crown, Robert Coward, M. C. Harmon, Ben Herron, and others.  Officers were elected at this meeting for a 1-year term, and the records show them to be William Henry Vanneman, Chief (also a Town Councilman); John H. Klein, Deputy Chief; M. C. Harmon, Secretary; and Ben Herron, Treasurer. William Vanneman resigned as Chief in 1913 when he was elected Mayor of Mt. Rainier. John Klein then became Chief.

From contributions of the members and other residents, a down payment on a hand-drawn chemical tank was made and is shown in the above photo.  The total cost of this equipment was $250, the down payment being $80.  Within a year, the organization acquired a lot at 34th and Shepherd Streets and work began on a frame building from material donated by Yost and Herral, W. P. Magruder, and Charles H. Lightbown, with the labor to erect the building being done on a voluntary basis.

The Lady Maccabees gave a recital, the proceeds of which, amounting to $80, were used to cover the cost of a bell, which served as a means of alarm for a number of years.  The bell was installed in the cupola of the Fire Department building.  It now resides in the Bunker Hill Fire Station.

The year 1915 saw a tremendous leap forward for the Mt. Rainier Vol. Fire Department, as it purchased and converted a Knox automobile into a hose wagon and placed this piece of equipment into service.  This was the first motorized equipment in Prince George's County.  A Model T Ford Chemical Truck was purchased the same year, and in 1917 another Model T was bought as a hose wagon.

In addition to William H. Vanneman and John H. Klein, early Chiefs of the Mt. Rainier Volunteer Fire Department included Francis "Frank" H. Crown, Sr., George A. Tovey, and Julius Reiners.

 

In 1922, John Klein's dining room once again was the beginning of an era in history, for it was there that the Prince George's County Firemen's Association was formed and organized.  Members of four departments - Hyattsville, Cottage City, Mt. Rainier, and Brentwood - met in the same place where the Mt. Rainier Vol. Fire Department was organized and created the Association for the benefit of disseminating knowledge and education, and the added strength achieved through a mutual unity of purpose.  The organizing member companies drew numbers from a hat to decide their company numbers in this order: Company 1 - Hyattsville, Company 2 - Cottage City, Company 3 - Mt. Rainier, and Company 4 - Brentwood.  From then on, each member company was assigned its number as it joined the Association.

The Mount Rainier Vol. Fire Department was never an organization that rested long on its laurels or hesitated to undertake another step forward in the interest of progress.  In fact, it was said that if you wanted a project to succeed, get the Fire Department behind it and half the battle is over.  In 1925, the members of the Department undertook to erect a brick building in front of the old frame one it had been using since 1911.  That monument to volunteer labor and civic pride in our community was the main part of the fire station used until 2003.  Once again, the members and various public-spirited citizens pitched in and gave Mt. Rainier a firehouse that was adequate for the City's needs for years to come. 

With a new building came the need for better equipment and, in 1926, the Department placed in service a modern American La France pumper.

Along with all of this visible and tangible evidence of progress as a Fire Department in a growing community, the members were quick to realize their need for knowledge and instruction in firefighting techniques and procedures. What better place to find this knowledge and experience but from our neighbors to the west, Washington, DC.  It was there, in the firehouses of the District of Columbia, that the members spent countless hours discussing their problems and gaining experience, and made contacts that paid handsome dividends.  Officers of the DC Fire Department came to Mt. Rainier and established an organized training program.

Not satisfied completely and always determined to take advantage of an opportunity to gain further knowledge, members of the Fire Department journeyed to Baltimore three nights a week where they completed a three-month course of instruction provided by the now defunct Baltimore City Salvage Corps.

Prior to 1929, the Fire Department was solely dependent upon dues from the members and the proceeds of carnivals and other enterprises conducted by the firemen.  Funds were also raised by the members by going door to door soliciting donations from the residents.

The year 1929 saw the beginning of another era in the history of the Department.  In April of that year, the Maryland State Legislature approved an Act authorizing the Mayor and Council to levy and collect a tax, not to exceed ten cents per each $100 of assessed valuation on the real property of Mt. Rainier, payable directly to the Fire Department as long as it provided adequate fire protection.  This agreement remained in effect until 1992, when the City changed the Charter and no longer gave the money to the Fire Department.  Since that time, the Fire Department has not received any financial support from the City of Mt. Rainier, although the Fire Department still provides more than adequate fire protection.

The need for ladders and salvage equipment soon became a necessity and, in 1930, the Department placed in service an American La France City Service Truck with a 50-foot wooden extension ladder.  This piece of equipment immediately became the workhorse of the Department, and its replacements since then still share the same place in the operations of the Department.

 

In 1933, the Mt. Rainier Fire Department hosted the 11th Annual Prince George's County Firemen's Convention.

The year 1935 saw the replacement of the old American La France pumper, vintage 1926, with a new 750-gallon Seagrave single stage pump.  This piece of apparatus was used continuously by the Department until 1956, when it was replaced and sold to the newly formed Brandywine-Aquasco Fire Department.  In 1940, the ladder truck was replaced with a modern Peter Pirsch 55-foot junior Hydraulic Aerial Ladder Truck.  This was the first Pirsch-built apparatus in the County.

In 1938, the Fire Department felt the need for a paid driver, and James Mezzanotte was put on duty during the daylight hours, as it was becoming increasingly difficult to always get an experienced driver between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm.  It was reasoned that a driver, experienced with the operational functions of the apparatus, would help make a difficult job a bit easier.  When World War II came, the members volunteered to spend at least one night a week on duty as a safeguard against any possible sabotage.  This practice continued until 1942, when a second paid man, Richard Moore, was hired, giving the Town of Mt. Rainier around-the-clock personnel on duty at the Fire Station.  At first, volunteers still stood duty on Sundays during the daytime, but this was finally supplanted by relief drivers, who served the Sunday tours of duty in turn about every four or five weeks.

In 1949, the Department applied to the Maryland State Fire Underwriters Association for a Class B Insurance Rating.

 To comply with the standards of the Underwriters, the Department would have to place in service an additional pumper.  This meant remodeling the fire station for the needed extra space.  The amount of $45,000 was borrowed from Citizens Bank of Riverdale on a 5-year loan.  The old fire station, erected in 1925, began to get a facelift, as well as an addition on the back and a paved parking lot.  The remodeling was completed in July 1950, and a new V-12 Seagrave 750-gallon pumper was placed in service.  Mt. Rainier was the only community in Prince George's County to enjoy a Class B insurance rating at that time.  This rating allowed the Department to have the lowest possible insurance rate that a volunteer fire department could obtain for its citizens and business establishments.

 
Ch
ief Karl "Chick" A. Young, Sr., Mt. Rainier's longest serving Fire Chief, played an important part in the organization of a course of instruction established at the University of Maryland in 1956.  Other officers and members of the Department also contributed to the success of this venture.  Chief Young died on November 16, 1951, and on October 5, 1952, the new Mt. Rainier Public Library on Rhode Island Avenue was named and dedicated in his honor.

 

In 1954, the debt for the fire station remodeling and new apparatus was satisfied.  It was time once again to keep the Department and its equipment at its peak, so new apparatus was sought.  Mt. Rainier was growing even further up, since it could no longer grow on the ground, so a new aerial truck was ordered and put in service.  It was an 82-foot ladder truck with custom appointments made by Peter Pirsch. And the year 1956 saw the replacement of the 1935 Seagrave pumper and in 1957, the V-12 Seagrave was replaced by another Peter Pirsch. All three pieces of appratus are shown in the below photo.

Two of the largest fires in Mt. Rainier history happened in March 1955 at the Melody Dance Studio on 34th Street and in February 1963 at the Mt. Rainier Bowling Alley on Rhode Island Avenue.

In 1959, a third paid man was employed, and the Mt. Rainier Fire Department had the distinction that year of being the only department in Prince George's County that never failed to answer an alarm.  By 1961, the Department had 3 paid drivers plus 4 relief drivers.  It also had 65 firefighters on its membership rolls.  This same year, the Department again hosted the 39th Annual Prince George's County Firemen's Association Convention.

In 1960, the Town of Mt. Rainier celebrated the 50th Anniversary of its Incorporation.  Fire Chief Francis "Freck" W. Xander and his Committee were in charge of the big Anniversary Parade.  The Parade included dignitaries, Miss Mt. Rainier Sandy Wilder and her court, units of fire engines and ambulances, ladies' auxiliaries, majorettes, bands, clowns, civil defense vehicles, floats, antique autos, boy and girl scouts, boys' clubs, and thousands of spectators on a hot afternoon.

In approximately 1960, the Future Firemen of the Mt. Rainier Volunteer Fire Department was formed for boys 12 through 15 years of age with 10 members under the direction of William Cissel.  Others who worked with the Future Firemen were Thomas "Pete" Alsop, Jerry Chambers, and Clarence Booth, Sr.  Barry Earl Miller became the first member of the Department to advance from Future Fireman to Junior Fireman, to full-fledged Senior Fire Department member.

Back Row Left to Right: David Cissel... John Fisher III... Bill Cissel... Barry Miller... Mike Clemens... Paul Johnston

Front Row Left to Right: Mike Garrett... Elmer Hamm... Joe Hiponia... Bobby Mutchler... Lawrence Trainum

 

In 1969, with the realization that the community was growing upward and that the Pirsch apparatus was aging, the Board of Directors sought bids from the Maxim Motor Company to replace all three pieces of equipment.  A contract was signed for two new 750-GPM pumpers and a new tractor-drawn 100-foot aerial ladder truck.

To accommodate the new apparatus, the property to the west of the fire station was acquired, and plans were immediately drawn up to add an addition onto the building.  This addition would house a new engine room for the Maxim apparatus, a bunkroom, and a kitchen, with garage area below.  The private house at 4104 34th Street adjacent to the fire station (owned by the late Minnie Bower) was torn down.  In February 1970, construction began.  This addition was fully completed in December 1970.  The new addition to the Firehouse is shown at the left of the old structure in the photo below.

During the next 10-year period, with the increase of population to our area, the Department experienced a dramatic increase in call demand for fire service and emergency medical services.  In 1984, after 13 years of extensive service to the community, which was evidenced by rust and signs of wear, the Board of Directors felt it necessary to seek bids for a comprehensive rehabilitation to the Maxim ladder truck.  Mount Aetna Body Works in Hagerstown, MD, was selected to do the job, and the truck was placed out of service in June for the long-awaited complete overhaul.  The reason for the rehab was to comply with the new state standards for fire apparatus.  The job was finished in February 1985, and an almost new ladder truck emerged in place of the 1970 model.  It included for the first time in the Department's history, a closed cab on the tractor and an enclosed tiller area to protect the driver, tiller man, and crew from the elements.

In 1985, the Mt. Rainier Fire Station had four Prince George's County career firefighters, who supplement the manpower weekdays from 7 am to 4 pm.  All other manpower was still provided by the volunteers around the clock.  Every effort was made to reduce the cost of operations by having the volunteer members contribute their time to maintenance of the apparatus and the fire station whenever possible.  There were 40 firefighters on the membership rolls.

In 1987, the Department's EMS (Emergency Medical Service) calls had increased and, with this increase, the Department acquired the PGCFD ambulance service from Brentwood, and Ambulance 39 was placed in service.

More recent Fire Chiefs of the Department were William "Bill" Stouten Freeman (Jan. 1951-Jan. 1955); George M. Hutton (Jan. 1955-Jan. 1958); Francis "Freck" Wallace Xander (Jan. 1958- Jan. 1963); John Edward Fisher, Jr. (Jan. 1963-Jan. 1966; May 1966-Jan. 1971); James "Jimmy" O. Lampe (Jan.-Apr. 1966); John Edward Fisher, Ill (Jan. 1971-Aug. 1972); Robert "Bobby" G. Mutchler (Aug. 1972-Jan. 1983); Lawrence "Larry" Douglas Trainum (Jan. 1983- Sept. 1992); David Floyd Morlan (Jan. 1993-Jan. 2001); Dennis James Vermillion (Jan. 2001 - Jan. 2005); and Jason Louis Fisher (Jan. 2005-Present).

In 1998, the Volunteer Fire Department of Mt. Rainier, Inc., entered into a consolidation agreement with Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department, the Brentwood Volunteer Fire Department, and the Cottage City Volunteer Fire Company. The purpose of this consolidation was due to the fact that age, usefulness, and life expectancy of the existing buildings of the three corporations had been reached.  There was insufficient room for daily administrative and emergency operations. The deficiencies in the architectural and mechanical/electrical systems of the three buildings, as well as non-ADA compliance, made the fire stations unsafe and a major hindrance to the day-to-day operations of the Fire Departments.  It was also noted that each station was within 1 mile of each other and, therefore, a consolidation was necessary.

Prince George's County agreed to fund the construction of the new fire station at no cost to the City of Mt. Rainier.  In 1999, the County purchased properties in the 3700 Block of Rhode Island Avenue, Mt. Rainier, including the Nation's Bank (formerly Suburban Trust Bank).  Construction was completed in 2003, and the new Bunker Hill Fire Station opened at 3716 Rhode Island Avenue.  The three volunteer fire companies moved into the new building (Station 55) and began emergency operations from this facility in 2004.  Research on the internet at that time revealed that, in the entire United States, this was the first documented consolidation of three independent volunteer fire departments joining operations under one roof.  "The Three Guardians" statue that was erected in front of the new fire station represents the three volunteer fire companies that reside there and provide emergency services to their communities from this new facility. The new station serves the communities of Mt. Rainier, Cottage City, Colmar Manor, Brentwood, and North Brentwood.

When the three volunteer fire departments moved into the Bunker Hill Fire Station, the Prince George's County Fire Department (who owns the building) set up rules that were to be followed by the consolidated fire companies.  The County Fire Department stated that they only wanted one entity to contact concerning decisions dealing with the new fire station and/or the consolidated fire departments.  In response to this rule, the three volunteer companies got together and created an umbrella corporation to represent the three volunteer companies and to be their "voice" to the Prince George's County Fire Department.  The "Bunker Hill Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association, Inc." was the name of this new corporation. Another of the rules set forth by the County Fire Department stated that as of the move-in date to the new fire station, none of the three consolidated fire companies could accept new volunteer members into their respective corporations.  All new membership candidates who came to the Bunker Hill Fire Station would become volunteer members of the Bunker Hill Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association, Inc. only.

Now, in 2014, in light of the last rule above about not being able to accept new members into their respective corporations since 2004, the membership rolls of the three consolidated volunteer companies have dwindled considerably, and eventually, all three companies will become extinct as a result of attrition.  Only the Bunker Hill Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association will carry on with providing volunteer emergency services to the surrounding communities.

The Bunker Hill Fire Station has facilities that are available to the public and has a community room available for civic and social events and meetings.  It also has a 300-seat capacity Social Hall available for public gatherings, such as meetings, wedding receptions, bingo, and dances.  The first floor has an ATM machine also available for use by the public.

In January of 2012, a small and quiet celebration took place among the remaining members of the Mt. Rainier VFD commemorating the 100-Year Anniversary of continuous service since incorporation was granted from the State of Maryland in 1912.  The Volunteer Fire Department of Mt. Rainier, Inc. is proud of its heritage and its service to the City of Mt. Rainier and surrounding communities for over 100 years!

 

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Copyright © 2012 Bunker Hill Volunteer Fire & Rescue Co. Inc.
This web site was last modified on: Monday, September 11, 2017