The Town of Bel Air was laid out in 1780 by Aquilla Scott on a portion of his inheritance named Scott’s Improvement Enlarged, frequently referred to as Scott’s Old Fields. Each of the 42 lots consisted of one-half acre. In 1782 this area was chosen as the County Seat and henceforth became known as “Belle Aire.”
On February 19, 1859, many invaluable papers were lost when the Harford County Courthouse was destroyed by fire. During these early years fire protection was considered a community effort. When the alarm was raised, members of the community would go to the scene of the fire with buckets and form a bucket brigade to extinguish the fire. Citizens of the community would also bring ladders, axes and other tools that might prove useful. Water sources were found where available. Anything from water troughs, wells, barrels, etc., were used as there was no water system with hydrants. With no water system or organized fire department, most buildings burned to the ground and were a total loss.
By 1890 the population of the village of Bel Air was 1,416 and growing. There were already five hotels, three blacksmith shops, two banks, seven physicians, one undertaker, three tanners, 34 lawyers and many independent businesses. Architects were hired to design not only public buildings as well as houses for the increasingly sophisticated and wealthy residents. These buildings needed protection from disastrous fires. And so begins the history of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company.
The earliest record of any organizational effort toward fire protection in Bel Air comes from the August 29, 1890, issue of The Aegis Intellenger, which contains an account of a public meeting, held in the Grand Jury Room of the Harford county Courthouse, concerning the formation of volunteer fire departments for small towns. The guest speaker was Mr. Charles Seckelman, former Chief of the Bethlehem Fire Department, and a representative of the Eureka Fire Hose Company. At this meeting, Mr. Seckelman suggested that Bel Air form one or two companies of 20-30 members each and that each company should have a foreman and assistant foreman to take charge during emergencies. These leaders, he noted, “should be sober and clear-headed men, whom the firemen will respect and obey.”
Recognizing a need for organized fire protection, the Articles of Incorporation of the Bel Air Fire and Salvage Company were recorded in the Office of the Harford County Clerk on September 13, 1890.
It should be noted here that the Municipal Water Company was formed earlier in the year in Bel Air and that mains and hydrants were in the process of being installed.
The incorporation included many of the prominent citizens of Bel Air. Among them were: Ortho S. Lee, W. Rowland Evans, Richard Dallam, Edward Ferry, Henry B. Burns, Frank N. Cline, W. S. Forwood, Jr., Charles M. Hinckle, Thomas H. Robinson, F. W. Baker, W. T. L. Taliaferro, and Frank Hays Jacobs.
The Directors for the first year were: Ortho S. Lee, W. Rowland Evans, S. A. Williams, W. S. Forwood, Jr., C. M. Hinckle, and F. W. Baker. Mr. Ortho Lee was elected Chairman and Mr. Taliaferro was elected Secretary. The Messrs Dallam, Hinckle, and Taliaferro were appointed to a committee to prepare a constitution and bylaws.
During this time the Bel Air Town Commissioners purchased from Mr. Charles T. Holloway of Baltimore two hand drawn hose carriages in early September of 1890 at a cost of one hundred and fifteen dollars. The hose reels were delivered to Bel Air in late October of 1890 and immediately outfitted for fire fighting. Along with the hose carriages the company also purchased seven hundred and fifty feet of 2 ½ inch hose from the Eureka Fire Hose Company of New York for four hundred and fifty dollars. This hose purchase also included two play pipes, six spanner wrenches, and six hose slings. Within the next two months the company also purchased two ¾ inch play pipes and six hydrant wrenches. In November of 1890 two loud gongs were added to the two hose carriages (one for each carriage) for the purpose of announcing the carriages response to a fire.
On September 24, 1890, the incorporators of the Bel Air Fire and Salvage Company met. During the meeting a constitution and bylaws were adopted and the following officers elected:
On October 8, 1890, the Bel Air Fire and Salvage Company was formally organized into two companies with Mr. John Thomas Crew Hopkins, Sr. as President. Mr. Henry B. Burns was appointed foreman of Company 1 and Mr. David Hanway Foreman of Company 2.
Division No. 1 consisted of the members living northwest of Howard (now Lee) Street, with its hose carriage house located at the stable of Henry B. Bruns on Ellendale Street while awaiting permission of the School Board to erect a hose carriage house on its Gordon Street property.
The members of Division 1 were:
The area of Division No. 2 was located southeast of Howard (now Lee) Street. The hose carriage house was located to the rear of the Harford County Jail.
The members of Division No. 2 were:
On October 13, 1890, the membership of the Bel Air Fire and Salvage Company again met in Harford County Court House. The meeting was largely attended, and in the absence of President Hopkins, Mr. W. T.L. Taliaferro, Vice President, acted as Chairman. The constitution and bylaws were read by Richard Dallam, Secretary, and accepted by the members.
A vote was passed at this meeting that membership would be limited to 100 and the capital stock would cost $100. Thirty-three men “joined up” that night and paid an initiation fee of 10 cents each. After some discussion, the members decided to provide a beneficial fund for members injured in the line of duty. Each was provided with a key to the fire house of his respective company. All members were requested to report to the nearest fire house when the alarm sounded, and aid in getting the apparatus to the scene of the fire. The following gear was issued: a rubber coat, metal hat, and a few pairs of boots. The apparatus during this period consisted of a two hand drawn hose reels with hose and miscellaneous appliances and some ladders that had to be carried to the scene of the fire.
It was also at this meeting that the organization of the company was completed as follows:
The first alarm answered by the Bel Air Fire and Salvage Company occurred on a Sunday morning. It was November 23, 1890, and involved the estate of Mrs. Effie Fulton on Hickory and Pennsylvania Avenues. The fire was discovered by Mr. P.F. Bauer, who notified Mr. Edward Street, a clerk in a nearby drug store. Mr. Street ran to the Hose Carriage House at the Harford County Jail and sounded the alarm. Within a period of two minutes after arriving, a stream of water was playing on the fire and it was extinguished. The new fire company had its start and passed its first test with great satisfaction. The tradition and excellence of service set down by the founding members would continue through the next century.