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Keeping the Home Fires Out:
A History of the Harney Volunteer Fire Company

James Rada, Jr.

Before there could be a fire company in Harney, the residents had to be willing to ask for help.

"It used to be that the most-embarrassing thing you could do was call for help," said Harney Fire Chief Donald Yingling Sr., a position he has held since for 32 years. He has also been a trustee for 15 years, company president for two years and vice president for two years.

It was not an easy thing to convince people to do. When a fire started in town, people tended to try and handle it on their own and many times they could, particularly if they caught it early enough.

"Even today, probably 95 percent of our calls can be handled by one person and a fire extinguisher," Yingling said. "But you don’t know if the next call will be part of that 5 percent that really do need a fire truck."

Forming a Fire Company

This was something that troubled some of the people in town in 1951. Once a fire a had started, if it got out of control, help might not be able to respond in time to be any help since the nearest fire company was in Taneytown.

So Erman Chipley, Vaughn Peck, Norman Welty and Fred Spangler decided that the town might need it’s own volunteer fire company.

The men sent out cards to every resident of Harney and also residents of surrounding communities who would benefit from the presence of a fire company. The cards announced an informational meeting to be held at the end of March. The men explained that they wanted to form a volunteer fire company and why. Fire Chief Green from the Westminster Fire Department and Fire Chief Myers from the Fairfield Volunteer Fire Company spoke at the meeting and explained the advantages of having a fire company in their community.

By the end of the meeting, 14 men were excited enough about the idea that they formed the Harney Volunteer Fire Company and the company’s first officers -- Robert Strickhouser, president; George Claybaugh, vice president; Wesley Mummert, secretary; Nevin Ridinger, treasurer and Murray Fuss, chaplain – were elected.

This core group started soliciting both financial support and other participants. The number of volunteers quickly grew to 65 men.

With no building or equipment, the company’s early meetings were held at Luther Ridinger’s building on the Harney square. Ironically, the building was a smokehouse, according to Joanne Bowen in an article in Neighborhoods of West Carroll that she wrote in 2001.

Burning of the mortgage for the fire Company building - Nov 25,1960

Proving Their Worth

The company’s first goal was to prove its worth to the community and offer them some fire protection. A number of fire extinguishers were purchased and distributed to households throughout the communities the fire company served. Not only did this allow for the property owner to extinguish small fires that might start on their property, if the person responded to a fire call, he would bring his fire extinguisher.

With their immediate priority addressed, the company saved money to construct a 350,000-gallon reservoir that could be used for fighting fires and a building of their own. The Walter Crouse Company constructed the pond reservoir for $150 so that tanker engines would have a place to quickly draw water if needed to fight a fire.

The company’s community dinners began in October 1951 and evolved into its very popular turkey and oyster suppers. They became so popular that people came from as far away as Baltimore, according to Company Historian Lee Bowers.

Yingling said that there are older people in town who remember those dinners and "still swear that only the ladies in Harney know how to prepare and serve the best oysters around."

Card nights on Fridays, another popular fundraiser that was continued for year, began in March 1952 in the St. Paul’s Church Parish Hall. Adult meals were $1.25 and children’s meals were 65 cents. The first supper’s profit was $406.50, an indication of how strongly the community was supporting its new fire company.

However, their biggest fundraiser each year is the summer carnival. The first one was held at Benner’s Grove, a few miles north of Harney, just over the Pennsylvania state line. A popular fundraiser at the carnival was to raffle off a steer. As the area became less agrarian, the raffle switched to a car in 1958. Parades were added the following year.

By the end of 1951, the Harney Volunteer Fire Company had a growing bank account and a growing membership with 63 members.

A Place of Their Own

The company’s next purchase took a few years to save for with fundraisers and raffles. A two-acre parcel was purchased in early 1954 and the company made plans to build its community center and fire hall. E. E. Stuller broke ground for the 87-foot by 40-foot building was in June 1954 with the dedication held June 11, 1955. This initial building included an engine room, boiler room, kitchen and recreation room for a cost of $23,000.

Though Harney is a small community, around 350 people attended the dedication event including the special guest speaker, Maryland Governor Theodore McKeldin.

Continued growth of the fire company led to expansions of the building in 1965 and 1979. Both were paid for with dedicated fundraising efforts of members of the Harney Fire Company.

The Ladies Auxiliary

The Harney Volunteer Fire Company’s Ladies Auxiliary was formed on March 3, 1954, with 35 members. Katherine Hall was the auxiliary’s first president. She remained active in the company and continued to serve in other capacities. The auxiliary quickly became a strong source of support to the company with its suppers and other activities.

The Ladies Auxiliary saw a slower growth than the regular fire company, though, only adding two members to its total in its first 25 years.

Early Firefighting

Even with the opening of the fire hall, firefighting was still far from what it is today. Modern firefighting training and equipment allows firefighters to penetrate into burning structures and efficiently extinguish many types of fires using water and chemicals. This was only beginning to be seen in the 1950s and 1960s.

When a fire was seen in Harney, the person who saw it could call one of a number of designated homes or the store in Harney with the information. The person who got the call would hurry to the station where he would push the siren button, which would sound the siren to alert any firemen in the vicinity. While that person was waiting for any fireman who could get away and respond to the fire, he would write the details of the fire on the chalkboard at the fire hall.

Booty Six was a firefighter with the company during this time. He joined in 1952 when he turned 16 years old.

"I wanted to join when they first formed the company, but I was too young," Six said. "I joined because I felt like it would be exciting to help. You never knew what to expect."

Yingling joined the fire company in 1963. He said that the siren might only sound a half dozen to 10 times a year, but those fire calls were generally serious fires.

"Unless somebody had a real problem, they didn’t call us," Yingling said.

Forget fire-resistant turnout gear and expensive fire engines. Until 1957, these early fireman drove their own vehicles to the fire and their gear would be a helmet and a heavy coat. Yingling said they did very little firefighting where they entered a burning structure since their outfits weren’t fire resistant and their equipment not powerful enough to penetrate into a burning structure.

"We have such better equipment nowadays," Yingling said. "Back then, we had to conserve water and use booster lines and portable pumps that might supply 200 gallons per minute. That wouldn’t supply a ¼-inch hand line nowadays."

Those early firemen also had little, if any, training. They saw a fire and usually dumped as much water as they could on it. Yingling remembered when he was a young boy helping out with his family’s business, a piece of old machinery was brought in that ran off kerosene. The machinery caught fire and then caught the shop on fire.

"Someone brought the fire truck up from Harney and said, ‘There it is if someone knows how to work it.’"

To try and avoid situations like this and keep firefighters safe, arrangements would be made to have a University of Maryland instructor come to Taneytown and conduct training for members of the Harney and Taneytown fire companies. In the years before the Harney Volunteer Fire Company purchased its first engine, Harney firemen had to train on the Taneytown fire engine.

Engines and Trucks

It wasn’t until January 1957 that the company was able to purchase its first piece of equipment, a GMC chassis equipped with Barton American Firefighting equipment. It cost the company $15,500 and was purchased from Glenn L. Bream, Inc. in Gettysburg.

The company's first new engine was purchased in 1957

"You don’t get much of anything today for $15,000," Yingling said. "One set of turnout gear alone will cost you $2,600 and an air pack is $4,000 to $5,000."

While the cost of that first engine was about two-thirds of the cost of the fire hall, it was a bargain compared to the cost of modern equipment. The company’s most-current piece of equipment, a Pierce Dash with a 2,500-gallon water tank and a compressed air foam system had a $410,000 price tag. Then before the truck was even put into service, the cost went up another $18,000.

"Some of the members went up to Wisconsin to pick it up and bring the truck back and they hit a deer on the way back to Harney," Bowers said. "Luckily, the chief was driving so he couldn’t yell at any of us."

The damage to the truck was part of the front bumper and part of the front fender.

A Chevrolet tank truck was purchased in 1967 and a four-wheel GMC 3/4 ton Brush truck in 1969. The latter is still in service, showing how frugal Harney Fire Company is with the funds it raises.

A Mack pumper was purchased in 1972 replacing the original 1957 GMC truck, which was sold. An army surplus Jeep was converted into a utility truck for the company in 1979.

The company currently has Engine 111 Lady & Taylor 1974/2000 Mack CF600, Engine-Tanker 112 Pierce Mfg 2004 Dash, Brush 115 1969 GMC 4x4 pick-up truck, and Special Unit 11 KME 1999 550 Ford small rescue unit.

Community Support

For Six, his most-memorable fire was one that occurred on Christmas Eve in the 1960s. The fire started at a location on Walnut Grove Road and Harney Fire Company and Taneytown Volunteer Fire Company responded to the call.

"Because it was Christmas Eve and we were going to be out quite late, Mr. Fisher, the fellow who ran the store in Harney opened it up," Six said. "He said, ‘If those people can come out and fight a fire on Christmas Eve, then I can open the store and feed them.’"

Harney Fire Company has always had strong support from the community both financially and with people giving of their time.

"We’ve always had good community support," said long-time member Carroll Selby. "It really helped up when we needed to raise money."

Six said it is this support that has allowed the Harney Fire Company to remain "one of the backbones of the community."

That community support has helped the current members of the Harney Fire Company stay active and proud of the work they do. Six was active with the company for 27 years until he had a heart attack.

"I feel very good about my time with the company," he said. "I was happy to serve the community, and I would have served longer if I hadn’t had a heart attack."

Staying Volunteer

The company was officially recognized as a rural fire department on May 1, 1960. It involved the company being inspected and approved. The next big event for the company came on November 25 when the company held a banquet to burn the mortgage.

Harney Fire Company is the only company in Carroll County that doesn’t use any paid fire personnel. However, staying that way will be a challenge. Harney and pretty much all volunteer fire companies are seeing their participation rate fall off at the same time the demand for service is increasing.

"One thing that helps is that if a family is involved with the fire department, then the kids will most likely be," Yingling said.

Harney Fire Company started its Junior Company in September 1984. This is an auxiliary for young adults age 13 to 16 to learn about the fire company, participate in company events and train to be a firefighter. Then once the Juniors turn 16, they are able to join Harney Fire Company as members.

"You’ve got to start at an early age," Six said. "If you get them early, you can keep them involved."

The hope is that this will help with company recruitment, but Selby suspects that at some point in the future Harney Fire Company will also have paid personnel in it.

Currently, Carroll County pays a larger portion of the company’s annual operating costs, but if paid personnel are added, their salaries and benefits, along with those of other paid Carroll County fire and EMS personnel, put pressure on the county budget that can lead to tax increases.

For more information about the Harney Fire Company,
visit their web site at www.harneyfire11.org.

Harney Fire Company Chiefs

  • 1955-1963 David Hess, Sr.
  • 1963-1964 Carroll Selby
  • 1965-1974 Fern Haines
  • 1975-1976 Marlin Six
  • 1977-1978 Curtis Baughman
  • 1979-1993 Donald Yingling, Sr.
  • 1994 Rick Shorb
  • 1995-present Donald Yingling, Sr.

Harney Fire Company Presidents

  • 1951-1952 Robert Strickhouser
  • 1953-1954 Wilbur Reifsnider
  • 1954-1955 Wilbur Snyder
  • 1955-1957 Fred Spangler
  • 1957-1959 Carroll Selby
  • 1959-1961 Elmer Schildt
  • 1962 Fern Haines
  • 1963-1964 Fred Spangler
  • 1965 Melvin Amoss
  • 1966-1969 Fred Spangler
  • 1970-1972 Cletus Reever
  • 1973-1974 Donald Yingling, Sr.
  • 1975 Cletus Reever
  • 1976-1988 Josh Harner
  • 1989-present James Waybright

How Inflation Affects Harney Fire Company

  • 1951 – The profit from the first community supper was $406.50
  • 1955 – The monthly electric bill for the fire hall was $15.36
  • 1955 – The profit from the three-day carnival was $4,066.46
  • 1955 – Suppers cost $1.25 for adults and 65 cents for children
  • 1955 – Fire hall insurance was $114.27 a year
  • 1957 – The first fire engine cost $15,500
  • 1972 – The E-111 Mack engine cost $37,991
  • 1983 – Suppers cost $5.50 for adults and $2.50 for children
  • 1984 – The T-11 Grumman cost $134,000
  • 1990 – Suppers cost $7.50 for adults and $4 for children
  • 2000 – Fire hall roof replaced with rubber roof for $28,600
  • 2004 – Engine tanker 112 Pierce Dash cost $410,000

Have your own memories of the Harney VFC? 
 Send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net