In October of 1922, a group of citizens gathered at the home of Melvin Bowers to discuss a crucial need for a growing community: fire protection. In 1922, the closest established fire companies were in Riverdale, four miles to the south, and Laurel, ten miles to the north, leaving much of Branchville and surrounding cities relatively unprotected should a fire occur. Recognizing this need, the Branchville Improvement Association was formed with Mr. Melvin Bowers as President, pledging to provide much-needed fire protection to the area.
In 1923, the young fire company was formally organized and officially became Branchville Fire Company 11 of Prince George’s County on September 20th, 1925. Branchville served from the culvert on Rhode Island Avenue to Route 1 on the west and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad tracks on the east as well as the Daniels Park area from Rhode Island Avenue and Fox Street up to Hollywood Road. The company regularly held strawberry festivals, dinners, concerts, and carnivals both to bond with their treasured community and raise money for this new company. This blooming relationship between Branchville and their “first due” was strong as everyone would pitch in to repair roads, crossings and move fallen trees.
Branchville’s first piece of equipment was this Ford “T” chemical truck.Branchville’s first piece of equipment was a Ford “T” chemical truck, painted barn red and costing $2,200.00. Rather than housing the engine in an established firehouse, as is commonplace today, engines were previously housed on member’s properties. This first engine was run out of Chief Al Johnson’s garage at Branchville Road and Rhode Island Avenue. Fires would be reported to the phone company operators, who would call Chief Johnson at his home. He would race upstairs to his bedroom and yank on a rope which would rock a fire bell mounted on a pole outside his house, alerting the men and the rest of the area that a fire was happening.
On December 2, 1925, Branchville Volunteer Fire Company bought a parcel of land on the southeast corner of 49th and Branchville Road. Built entirely by volunteer labor and men working far into the night, excavating, mixing concrete, laying cement blocks and doing the hundreds of other jobs that were necessary, the Branchville Fire Station was established.
In June of 1939, Branchville decided to purchase and place in service an ambulance to meet the medical needs of the community. The new 1939 LaSalle could carry three patients and served as Rescue Squad Unit 6 from Paint Branch Road on Baltimore Boulevard south, to and including all of Laurel on the north, Montgomery line on the west to Telegraph Road. Quickly growing, more land was purchased to accommodate the new American LaFrance pumper purchased in February of 1929. Added to this fleet in 1931 was a Chrysler Roadster serving as a chief’s car and a new Diamond “T” brush truck in 1937.
In June of 1940, with World War II taking many of the men to fight for our country, Branchville began to allow women to join the station as operational members. The first female crew consisted of Dorothy Stauffer as driver, Mae Duvall, Blanche Longanecker, Kitty Fortner, Cathy Kirkpatrick, Alma Caudell, and Helen Longanecker. These women served their country at home while the Branchville boys served overseas, including 18 members who died in serving our country.
After the war ended, Branchville began plans for a new two-story firehouse to replace the one currently on the property. With six bays on the ground floor, the new firehouse would provide ample room for current and future apparatus. The second story banquet hall was designed to be a community gathering place, capable of accommodating over 300 people. This new firehouse was dedicated on Saturday, October 2, 1954, and has stood the test of time, as it is still our current home.
Since the inception of the Prince George’s Fire Department in 1970, Branchville, like many other stations, was staffed with a paid career crew from 07:00 to 15:00. One member of that crew would stay until 17:00, thus ensuring a driver was on hand during those transition hours. The volunteers covered the nights, weekends and holidays. It was a very nice and efficient set-up.
In 1983, the station underwent a major renovation involving the creation of a new boardroom as well as new bunkrooms and offices, and the refurbishing of the kitchen, rec room, and upstairs hall. These new facilities allowed for female-specific areas to be created, better-equipping women to also be included and serve at Branchville. In 1994, Branchville began to host our weekly Bingo games, which to this day draw individuals from all over Prince George’s County to play six times a week.
The current Branchville Fire Station is the result of a nearly million dollar renovation that began in 1994. The four-year project provided new living quarters, separate showers and restrooms for male and females, locker rooms, new office space, a renovated rec room and kitchen, and a completely renovated hall with additional storage space, ceiling, and paneling. The entire fire station was brought up to code with a sprinkler system, fire alarm system and additional means of egress for our hall patrons.
In 1994, the vacant Berwyn Elementary School, at which many current and previous members were educated, was acquired to create the C. Harry Huth Annex. The building was demolished with the exception of the auditorium, which was fitted with two garage doors. A children’s park, new parking surface, and a general overhaul of the appearance of the school lot were completed in 1998. “The School,” as it is affectionately known, still serves as a location for general and apparatus storage and maintenance as well as the location of many drills for both Fire and EMS members.
In May of 1999, two members of the DCFD made the ultimate sacrifice and passed after having been severely burned operating on a rowhouse fire. As one of many volunteer companies from around the Washington Metropolitan area, Branchville proudly honored their sacrifice by standing by with an engine and full crew on successive days at Engine Co. 6, 1300 New Jersey Ave, NW, while members of DCFD paid their respects. Sadly, just two months later in July of 1999, tragedy again struck DCFD, as another member died in the line of duty. As a result, all the volunteer companies that stood by two months prior were once again called upon to serve the Nation’s Capital while the DCFD membership said their goodbyes and paid their respects. For this occasion, Branchville again reported to the quarters of Engine Co. 6 in the Shaw area of DC.
By the turn of the century, Company 11 become a very busy station, responding to approximately 3,200 emergency responses per year. Branchville’s response area transformed from what was once a quaint suburban enclave along the trolley car tracks into a booming suburb with multi-family residences, industries, mass transit, and large shopping malls, all in less than 80 years. With the expansion of the University of Maryland over the last 20 years, Branchville also experienced a dramatic uptick in service to our neighboring university.
On September 11, 2001, the world changed. With our nation reeling from the horrific terrorist attacks, the Branchville Volunteer Fire Company and Rescue Squad, Inc., answered the call for help. On that fateful morning, some members, like many around the country, were watching television as the events unfolded. We knew that, due to our proximity to Washington, D.C., if there was an incident in the DMV, it was likely we would respond. Not too long after the second plane struck the World Trade Center, Prince George’s County Fire/EMS made the declaration that all personnel, career and volunteer, were to report to their respective stations.
Initially, E113 – known as The Pentagon Pumper – responded with a crew of six to the quarters of Engine 8, 1520 C St NE (near D.C. General Hospital/RFK Stadium). Additionally, C11B responded with them to assume supervisory duties.
At approximately 11:00 that morning, E113, Chief 11B, and a host of other PG volunteer units responded as the 3rd Alarm from D.C. to the Pentagon. Initially, the group, which consisted of units from Cottage City, Morningside, Kentland, Greenbelt, and a career crew from Montgomery County T6 (Bethesda) plus their Battalion Chief, were to stage at The Pentagon pending further orders. Those orders were issued and the group proceeded into the interior courtyard of The Pentagon. After two recon trips to determine line placement and strategy, the collective group courageously and without hesitation fought fire inside The Pentagon for 6+ hours. As a group, only one incident of a member being injured arose from that day: a sliver of wood scratching one member’s eye. The professionalism, call to duty, and gallantry were noted at the ensuing Branchville Volunteer Fire Company banquet in February of 2002, as the seven members who responded to THE PENTAGON received the official Pentagon Pin to be worn on their dress uniform.
It was estimated that Engine 113 – The Pentagon Pumper — pumped more than 1,000,000 gallons of water on 9/11 and returned to Branchville the next morning after 20 hours of operation. Branchville continues to honor the service of our members and the sacrifice of those who fell in the line of duty with a memorial stair climb each year.
With the new millenia came the need for new and better fire and rescue apparatus. In 2002, Branchville purchased its first Pierce fire apparatus, a 1500 gpm Dash pumper, followed by a 2003 Ford E-350 Super Duty ambulance built by LifeLine. In 2013, that ambulance was donated to the Maryland State Police (MSP) Aviation Command for their use. We sold the 2002 pumper to the Riverdale Heights Volunteer Fire Company in 2016.
Branchville has always been a busy fire company and in the early 2000’s, we certainly ran our share of fires. But one particular day in July, 2004, will serve as a lifetime of memories for those who were there. In the early morning hours, a fire was intentionally set to the Best Western Motel/EJ’s Landing Restaurant at 8601 Baltimore Ave., in College Park.
This 2-alarm blaze could have been much worse if not for the supreme efforts of all who responded. There were no significant injuries reported.
While the companies were picking up their hose and equipment from that blaze, a large column of black smoke could be seen just a little over a half mile away on Route 1. The person(s) who had set the fire at the Best Western had also started a blaze at a College Park landmark: Lasick’s Restaurant. This fire, also requiring two alarms, was more spectacular than the first, as it involved a 2” gas line. Thankfully no serious injuries were reported.
A very fateful day in our company’s history occurred on July 25, 2002. That day, at 12:00, PGFD contacted Chief Hughes to inform him that, as of Thursday, July 27th, 2002, the career staff assigned to Branchville would be transferred out to other stations. The county had deemed the company no longer in need of career staff due to our proximity to neighboring stations. Through several years of internal, community and local government pressure, in 2007, the career staff was restored to Branchville. Alas, that iteration was short-lived. In the spring of 2013, the career staff was removed permanently. To this day, the Branchville Volunteer Fire Company is entirely staffed by volunteers.
With an annual increase in the number of emergencies we were running, continued upgrades to the apparatus fleet were needed. In 2010, we purchased a Pierce 1500 gpm Arrow XLT pumper, Engine 111. To bolster our ambulance services, in 2011 we purchased a Ford/Horton F-450 on a 4×4 chassis, Ambulance 118. A similar unit built on the same specifications was purchased in 2012. The newest unit became Ambulance 119.
In 2016, a need for additional fire apparatus was realized. That year saw our new Engine 113 put in service, also a Pierce 1500 gpm Arrow XLT. These engines still serve as our front-line firefighting units. Complementing the fleet, in 2014 we purchased a Chevy Tahoe as a chief’s vehicle; in 2016, we purchased a Ford F-450 Super Duty to serve as Utility 11. We added to the fleet in 2020 with an upgrade in chief’s vehicles and purchased two Chevy Tahoes to serve Chief 11 and 11A. The 2014 is assigned to Chief 11B.
In December, 2016, while a new ambulance order was being placed, our 2012 ambulance was involved in a terrible accident after having been carjacked by a drug/alcohol-fueled individual. Soon after taking the unit, leaving its two-person crew stranded along the Capital Beltway (I-495), he slammed into a car at a red light in Greenbelt, MD., killing its driver – an elderly male. That unit was totaled and, in its place, a 2017 Ford F-550, built on a 4×4 chassis and purchased with insurance funds, became the new Ambulance 119. The unit that we purchased during that time frame – also a Ford F-550 – became Ambulance 117. Those units, plus our 2011 Ford/Horton (Ambulance 118) are currently in service on a rotating basis.
In March of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic exploded in the United States, stopping all social gathering and impacting work and education. Branchville members rallied together and decided to remain in service and continue to serve the community. Many of our college student-members opted to move into the station and staff the apparatus rather than going home while everything in the area ground to a halt. Branchville had 10 members that lived in the firehouse during the 2020-2021 school year. During this period, live-in and non live-in members alike worked together to ensure the station was staffed. During the first year of the pandemic (2020), Branchville responded to 3855 total calls for help. With the increased number of members in the station, plus the number of emergency responses, new logistical challenges arose. To minimize the possibility of members contracting the virus, the Department put a plan in place to turn our social hall into a quarantine zone for our live-in members, replete with cots and items needed to them separated. This plan would have come to fruition had the Prince George’s County Government not contracted hotels for quarantine use. Branchville fared better than other stations in PG County, with only two live-in members contracting the disease.
As the pandemic continued into 2021, our resolve hardened. Once again, our membership banded together and we made it through the year virtually unscathed, responding to more than 3,500 emergency incidents.
Branchville is immensely proud of our past and continued accomplishments. We remain active members of the community, donating to local charities such as the Boys and Girls Club, City of College Park Memorial Fund, D.A.R.E. Programs, Prince George’s Hospital Center, Bonnie Johns Foundation and Children’s Hospital as well as local schools and churches. Branchville has become the fire station of choice for a great many University of Maryland undergrad students looking for an established organization to become fire/EMS providers; a place where they can hone their nascent life-saving skills and, more importantly, give back to their community before moving on to attain their lifelong professional goals.
In this, the second decade of the new millennium, our riding membership consists almost exclusively of University of Maryland college students, many of whom, upon graduation, continue on in the fire service as career firefighters within the DMV area or move on in the medical field as doctors, nurses or PAs. Many of them, while active in operations, move up into the leadership ranks and serve as company officers. Sewn into the mix are some older, veteran members, who serve side-by-side our youth and offer institutional knowledge, guidance and leadership, plus years of valuable experience they graciously pass along. As one could imagine, we have quite the mix of people and personalities here at Branchville, a highly effective combination that very few other organizations can lay claim to.
This new image of Branchville was formed by many members of our community, who, at various times in our storied history, came together to forge one of Prince George’s County’s premier volunteer fire-rescue organizations. Once a member moves on, as all inevitably do, our newer members, whether transfers from other departments or from the U of MD campus, continue our legacy. The cycle simply repeats itself.
Our history, and status in the city of College Park and beyond, is well documented; our future is bright. Each and every current and former member should be proud of what was accomplished here, giving us much to look back on and, equally as important, look forward to.
You see, serving the community is what Branchville does.