A small group of citizens from the College Park Home and School Association, gathered on the evening of January 13, 1925, for their monthly meeting in a little three room school house; now the site of the former College Park Elementary School. College Park was growing and the citizens felt that a fire company should be organized. The subject led the agenda at the meeting, and after much discussion, a committee was appointed to organize a fire company. The committee drafted a Constitution and By-Laws and named the organization “The College Park Volunteer Fire Department.”
A meeting was held in the school house on March 2, 1925, at which the Constitution and By-Laws were adopted and fourteen men signified their intention of joining the Department. The group elected Dr. Henry B. McDonnell Fire Chief. The original Constitution provided for three (3) companies:
Chief McDonnell was Chairman of the Chemistry Department at the University of Maryland and through his connection with the University, a hand drawn hose reel and a two wheel soda acid extinguisher were made available to the newly formed Fire Department. In addition, 25 members of the Home and School Association purchased soda acid extinguishers, which were kept in their homes in case of a fire in the community. An obsolete horse-drawn hose wagon was purchased from the District of Columbia Fire Department, and a used 1921 Atlas truck chassis was purchased from the Connecticut Pie Company. Chief McDonnell also purchased the first 2-1/2″ hose from the District of Columbia for $.02 per foot. This was the nucleus of the Department’s firefighting equipment in 1925. The new fire department transferred the hose bed, chemical tanks and other useful equipment from the old hose wagon to the truck chassis. The volunteers worked out of a barn at Captain Crisp’s residence on Harvard Avenue (now 7400 Rhode Island Avenue). Here the volunteers spent many hours assembling the first fire engine, and the fellowship they enjoyed was long remembered. The Company was officially placed in service on November 1, 1925, and made its first response on December 13, 1925. During the first year of service, the Department responded to twenty-one (21) alarms.
The need for a fire house came to the attention of Mr. Elmore Power, one of the early developers of College Park, who gave a lot to the fire department at 4813 Calvert Road. The volunteers procured lumber and started to erect the first fire house under the direction of Captain Crisp. The building was finished in the early part of August, 1926. Two additions were later constructed. The fire house served as a community hall and volunteer club during the depression years. By the late 1920s, the fire department had acquired a bell and installed a long rope which reached the ground. When a fire was discovered, the residents were instructed to call the Berwyn telephone operator. She, in turn, called the nearest neighbor to the fire house that could be reached. This person would rush to the fire house and vigorously ring the bell until the first member of the fire department arrived who would then be told of the location of the fire. On May 29, 1929, a siren replaced the bell, but the telephone operator still had to find someone at home to sound it. On December 27, 1929, a telephone was installed in the station and on January 30, 1930, a connection was made so that the Berwyn operator could remotely sound the siren.
The State Fireman’s Association and the University of Maryland began an annual short course for fireman in 1930. In 1937, the Fire Service Extension (now the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, MFRI) was created as a full-time training program. Discussions began in the late 1930s to erect a new fire station and fire training facility. This lead to the construction of the second fire house at 7507 Baltimore Avenue . The dedication was held on September 28, 1946, with addresses by Governor Herbert R. O’Connor and University President H. C. Byrd, a football game and a parade.
Dormitory facilities in the fire station for University student/volunteer firefighters began with two beds behind the apparatus. By 1956, ten fire protection engineering students were housed in a room on the second floor. In 1963, after training facilities were relocated to the present MFRI Academy, twelve students were housed in three rooms. The relocation of MFRI offices in 1987 allowed the department to expand the student dormitory to fifteen students and two PGFD paramedics.
The old fire house on Calvert Road was used by the City of College Park for offices and a polling place until 1959, when the City Municipal Center was constructed. Friends of College Park Airport occupied the building in the 1960s. The old fire house briefly served as a temporary fire station in 1970, when the Baltimore Avenue station was blocked by anti-war demonstrations. The old fire house served as a storage facility until 2003 when it was sold.
The MFRI mission and fire department services had outgrown the 7507 Baltimore Avenue facility by the early 1970s. The best example was the inability of most new apparatus to fit inside the station. This resulted in the construction of the most notorious and capable rear mount ladder truck to ever serve in Prince George’s County: a 1971 Peter Pirsch 100′ aerial. Known as the “Goose”, its A posts and windshield were cut down significantly to allow the truck to fit in the station. The name was short for “Mongoose”, the only animal made to kill snakes and snake was the nickname for tiller trucks. A renovation of the station was found to be inefficient and costly with no place to temporarily relocate the fire department. After many years of hard work and planning, the fire department moved to our current quarters at 8115 Baltimore Avenue. The new station was built with assistance from the State of Maryland, the county, and the fire department. This allowed the fire department to modernize its fleet with newer, safer apparatus.
Almost eighty years have passed since citizens gathered in the school house to consider a volunteer fire department. The department has grown from a homemade hose wagon to two engines, a ladder truck, a foam unit, a BLS ambulance, and an ALS medic unit.
The College Park Volunteer Fire Department has met its motto “Serving the Community” in the City, County, and Campus since 1925 and will long into the Future!