County Head Denies Local Company Erred At Fire

October 28, 1937

(Much criticism has been directed against the local fire company and Chief Amos Ruch for an alleged error in judgment at the outset of the fire. Had they employed different tactics, say these critics, the local firemen might have checked the blaze before it got out of control. In the following article, the writer, who is president of the Carroll County Firemen’s Association, (comprising nine volunteer companies), and who was among the first four or five men to arrive at the scene, gives his opinion on the matter.)

By Frederick Church

Whether the Sykesville firemen could have checked the blaze had they first tackled it with their small booster line instead of hooking up to the fire plug with their big hose, is a question on which there is sharply conflicting opinion. There are those who are emphatic in maintaining that they could. And there are those who maintain with equal vigor that the could not; that the smaller hose would have proved sadly inadequate, and would only have delayed the firemen even further.

Personally, I agree with the latter.

When the siren sounded at 10:45 a. m., I went to the telephone and asked the operator where the fire was. It was Thursday, publication day at the Herald office, and I could ill afford to lose any time. When the operator said the alarm had not been set off at the exchange and that the fire must be at the lower end of town, I donned a leather jacket and hurried to the engine house, only a block and a half away.

Upon my arrival the engine had already been driven to the nearby Patapsco river plug. A glance at the roof of the Forsyth building revealed that flames were breaking out in several small patches and smoke was sifting from under practically all of the wooden shingles. Although I did not enter the building, but went immediately to the truck to assist in hooking up, it was apparent the whole upper portion of the building was afire before the flames broke out and were discovered. From all accounts, the fire had been burning for sometime. It has been definitely established that several occupants of the apartments smelled smoke and burning wood for several hours before the alarm.

When the flames broke through the roof they simply secured the draft they needed. The wind, blowing straight up Main street, probably never blew harder. At this crucial moment, when everybody stood by expecting water to come and the firemen to quickly extinguish the blaze, as they had done at that very spot on two previous occasions, water failed to come!

The pipe line of the fire plug unused for several months, was clogged. Two or three times firemen threw open the engine pump, to no avail. Only a few minutes had elapsed from the time the siren sounded, but already a conflagration was imminent. At this point, Wm. Mason Jones, one of the merchants to be burned out and who was standing nearby watching operations, was sent to the B. & O. station, a few feet away, to telephone for additional companies. The local firemen, working as fast as humanly possible, uncoupled from the useless plug, took the truck across the bridge and pumped directly from the river. Within a few minutes they had a good stream on the fire.

But the damage was done. The fire was out of control. From that time on the question was to what limit it could be held. And not until three hours later, with nearly a block in ruins, and with seven neighboring companies aiding Sykesville, whose pumper went out of commission after more than an hour’s hard service, was the blaze brought under control.

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