Fire Fighting Documented in Book
by Jennie Fleagle
Captain Justin Mayhue has always had an interest in the history of the Hagerstown Fire Department. Mayhue began his career in the life-saving business at the age of 16 when he started volunteering at the Long Meadow Department. He joined the paid ranks in Hagerstown in 1983 and has been fighting fires in the community ever since.
In 1999, Mayhue wrote a book called Through the Eyes of Fire. The book highlights his career as a dispatcher for the city, a part-time duty he held for 18 years. After completing this project, Mayhue set his sights on a new undertaking. He was aware that there had never been a comprehensive history of the Hagerstown Fire Department written. He decided to change that.
This past July, Mayhue’s new project was published. Fire Fighting in Hagerstown is a historical account chronicling the evolution of the profession from its origins in the area in the year 1791 up to the present day. “I wanted to recognize the fire fighters who have served the city,” says Mayhue, who, after making an agreement with his publisher, took about four months to compile the book. He had been doing research prior to that point as well.
The chapters of the book are broken down into several categories. Six of the chapters are dedicated to the volunteer companies, five engine and one ladder. Another chapter highlights the career officers, drivers, and fire fighters. There is a chapter for communications and also a chapter for ambulances and emergency vehicles.
Photographs in the book display every motorized engine and ladder apparatus ever used in the area. The 221 pictures in the book “cover the full gamut” from the bucket brigade to hand drawn to horse drawn to motorized, says Mayhue. “Before 1900, you had a hose cart or reel to bring the hose,” says Mayhue.
The first engine that was similar to what we see today was used in 1911. Steam engines were originally horse drawn and were then converted to utilize motors.
When the water used to fight the blazes was hand pumped, it came from cisterns. Today, tanks have the water on them. In Fire Fighting in Hagerstown, Mayhue highlights the water department as well. The water originally came from the Smithsburg Reservoir, which used run-off from the mountain. Supplying the water was then taken over by the city. Today most of the water used by fire fighters comes from the Potomac River, although some does come from other sources such as the West End Reservoir.
In the book, Mayhue reveals that fire fighters in the area did not begin to be paid for their duties until 1895 when drivers were reimbursed. Prior to that everyone worked on a volunteer basis. The city of Hagerstown began paying drivers around 1910.
“This is kind of the tip of the iceberg,” says Mayhue in reference to the information he uncovered while doing research for the book. He realizes that there is much more documentation and also more photographs out there waiting to be uncovered.
One of the photos that Mayhue came across was of a young man standing in front of a fire that occurred on North Locust Street. Mayhue wondered if the young man grew up to be a fire fighter, and while doing research for the book, he discovered that in fact the young man had grown up to join the ranks in Hagerstown.
The photographs in the book came from a variety of sources. Some were found in the Historical Society, some came from current and retired fire fighters, some came from widows of fire fighters, and still others came from old post cards. Dave White, a retired fire fighter, is a post card collector and he supplied some of the images showcased in the book.
The oldest document that Mayhue found was the written constitution from the United Fire Company. It was compiled in 1803. Other documents include Antietam Fire Company’s constitution from 1835, which was restored by an expert. Mayhue attempted to organize old fire run reports, which are compiled every time there is a fire. Some of these go back to the 1890’s.
Inspiring accounts highlighted in the book include a rescue conducted during the Washington House fire in 1879. This hotel was located where the University of Maryland is being set up today.
Hose Reel Competitions were popular around the turn of the century. Hagerstown won first place in some of these contests and they were rewarded with a significant amount of money for their department, although Mayhue points out that “prestige was the big thing.” The fire fighters would visit towns and participants would include people from places such as Chambersburg, Frederick, and Martinsburg.
Having his book published was important to Mayhue but “my big thing was to get the work complete and get it out,” he says. He wants people to look to the past and learn the history through his words.
“I’d like to mandate that all fire fighters read this book,” says Mayhue, who believes that it would be a great learning experience for them to see where their profession has been and how it has evolved over the years in Hagerstown.