The Early Establishment of “Shepherd’s Town”
There have been settlements in the area now known as Shepherdstown since 1707, and the official settlement record dates October 3, 1734 as when the 222 acres of land along the Potomac River was patented by Governor Gooch to Thomas Shepherd and Josh Hate (Athey, 2010). In Dr. Mike Athey’s book A History of the Shepherdstown Fire Department (2010), Dr. Athey explains that on November 12, 1762 Thomas Shepherd presented a bill to the Assembly of Virginia to recognize the district as Mecklenburg. This bill was approved by the Assembly on November 30, and signed by the Governor on December 23, 1762. On January 11, 1789, according to the account as told by Dr. Athey (2010), Mecklenburg’s town charter was amended to change the name to “Shepherd’s Town.” Later, of course, the name was condensed to Shepherdstown.
The First “Fire Engine”
Although early records indicate that the official formation of an “organized fire response” was in 1792, which is the year we consider our founding, on April 2, 1798 a resident of Shepherd’s Town, Jacob Haines, was appointed to travel to Lancaster, PA for the “purpose of procuring a fire-engine” (Athey, 2010). In September of the same year, Mr. Haines was hired by the town to make wheels for the “engine” finished in the same workmanship. Unfortunately, it was learned that in November of 1799, the “engine” had been sold to another township. Without a fire suppression piece, the town moved forward with their plans for fire suppression accommodations. They had ladders built, and continued to use an active bucket brigade of townsmen to fight fire. In 1801, a “house for the fire engine” was built on King Street, “at the corner of Henry Line’s lot” (Athey, 2010). On March 31, 1801, Henry Line was ordered to go to Lancaster and demand the engine. He returns with the first “engine” of Shepherd’s Town. This “engine” was not an engine as you may think in your head, but instead was a hand pump, which pumped water, and was pulled by firemen (the above image, although not the exact piece, is a general concept of what this would have looked like). The town paid for fire protection equipment, little by little, and spared no expense in the procurement of this equipment – paying each man for his work or expenses to travel. Dr. Athey notes in his book, “This philosophy [of financial support for fire protection] set a tone for fire protection in Shepherd’s Town that is still practiced by the Shepherdstown Fire Department today” (Athey, 2010, p. 3). It was in 1847 that a fund drive began to purchase a new fire engine. In December of 1853 the town purchased a new suction type engine from John Rodgers of Baltimore for $750.00 and a hose real for $80.00 (Athey, 2010).
A New Age of Firefighting
A History of the Shepherdstown Fire Department (2010), recounts that a new fire engine arrived in Shepherdstown in March of 1885. The Silsby Steam Engine could throw water 250 feet from the end of the nozzle, and had 100 feet of hose. The hose was pulled behind the steam engine on a hose cart. The Silsby still resides at the firehouse in Shepherdstown, and hanging from the rafters in Station 3 is the hose cart. Both are available for viewing.
Names Change, the Mission Remains the Same
The first recorded fire (in the Shepherdstown Register) was in February of 1855 and remarks that the “Diligent Fire Company” exhibited “vigilant and untiring exertions” in the extinguishing of the fire. An article appearing in the same newspaper two years later refers to the department as the “Vigilant Fire Company.” On March 6, 1869, the “Potomac Fire Company” is remarked as having formulated a new constitution and by-laws – that same night, the Potomac Fire Company was called to a fire at 9 O’clock at the home of S. P. Humrickhouse. In 1882, the Shepherdstown Register recounts that the “Shepherd Fire Company” elected its officers for the year. The Chief was Thos L. Rickard. It was in 1908 that the name of the department changed to what it is today – the Shepherdstown Fire Department. In 1912, we were incorporated as the Shepherdstown Fire Department, Inc.
In front of Station 3, proudly displayed in front of the official Shepherdstown Fire Department flag, is a bell that was crafted in the 1800s. The Shepherd Fire Company placed this bell in service in October of 1895 (Athey, 2010). It was used to alert the town firefighters of fires for a century, and still has a special place in the hearts of the membership. At special events, you may still see the membership of the department ring the bell. Speaking of bells, if you were ever to visit the training ground in our nation’s Capitol, the D.C. Fire Department proudly displays a bell that was donated to the academy by the Shepherdstown Fire Department when lifetime member, and currently an officer in the DC Fire Department, Andrew Arnold graduated from the D.C. Fire Academy.
The Twentieth Century
In 1911, the fire department began construction on their new home in downtown Shepherdstown off of New Street. In 1912, there was a massive fire in which a large portion of the town burnt. On November 8, 1912 a section of the Entler Hotel and the business town center “were utterly consumer by fire” (as cited in Athey, 2010). It was in 1914 that the construction was completed on the new fire house, and the fire department occupied the structure until 1989. In 1926 the Shepherdstown Fire Department entered the “motorized era” when they took ownership of their first motorized piece of fire suppression equipment. A 1926 Seagrave engine was the first. This piece was followed by a number of other motorized pieces of equipment throughout the years. In 1945 a new Seagrave was placed in service. In 1950, a second Engine was placed in service. Over the year more apparatus have been used in Shepherdstown – multiple engines, two ladder trucks, and various other support pieces – images of each can be found by visiting our firehouse, while some have been posted here:
Line of Duty Death
In February of 1951, Chief Engineer Kenneth Shipley, pictured above, died of a heart attack immediately following his return home after responding on an emergency call. Although at the time this was not considered a death “in the line of duty,” we recognize Chief Engineer Shipley as the only Line Of Duty Death (LODD) of the Shepherdstown Fire Department. In 2013, we dedicated our Engine (currently running Engine 3) in honor of Chief Engineer Shipley.
Chief D. Lee Morgan
In 1958, D. Lee Morgan was elected the Fire Chief. Chief Morgan would serve as the Chief until his retirement in 1998, ushering the Shepherdstown Fire Department into the modern era. This included a substantial growth in emergency runs, equipment, area served, apparatus to maintain, and community to serve. Chief Morgan is an icon of the Shepherdstown Fire Department, and his presence is still felt today among the men and women of the Shepherdstown Fire Department. In the same year of his retirement, Chief Morgan was declared “Fire Chief Emeritus,” and an endowment was created in his name ensuring his legacy would forever be a part of the Shepherdstown Fire Department. In December of 2017, a new Pierce Arrow XT Ladder Truck was placed in service by the SFD membership, and it was to Chief D. Lee Morgan that this piece was dedicated with a plaque affixed to the officer side of the cab (image above).
The Arrival of EMS in Shepherdstown
It was in the 1950’s that the department recognized the need to begin Emergency Medical Service to the community. Through the dedication and support of a local Homemakers Club of Shepherdstown the department purchased and placed into service its first ambulance in 1962 – the cost of the ambulance, and training our members was around $2,500. In 2016, our newest Ambulance 3 was dedicated to the Homemaker Club of Shepherdstown for their instrumental role in getting us started – as comparison, our new ambulances cost $250,000 a piece. We’ve had many ambulances serve the community over the years from Cadillac, to Fords, to Dodges. Most recently they have all been termed Ambulance 3 and Ambulance 3-1. Although Chief D. Lee Morgan was the highest-ranking officer of the department ushering us into the EMS realm, our first officer in charge of the Ambulance division was Tice Tennant – whom has been memorialized through the dedication of our currently running EMS 3. In 1966, there were recorded 102 fire calls, and 127 ambulance calls. It was in 1997 that the membership decided to create independent leadership of both specialty: Fire Division and EMS Division. This created a Chief of both respective divisions: Chief D. Lee Morgan and Chief Doug Pittinger. Today, Fire Chief Ross Morgan, the son of D. Lee Morgan, and EMS Chief Marshall DeMeritt fill these roles.
Our New Home
In 1989 the department moved from the New Street location to our current house on Route 45 (Martinsburg Pike) just outside of the town limits of Shepherdstown. This large facility has a bay large enough to accommodate our apparatus, office spaces, bunk rooms, Live In Quarters, and a banquet hall. In 2005 we renovated adding the “Live-In” quarters to allow for volunteers to take residence at the fire house 24/7. The Live-In Program is a fundamental program that has allowed Shepherdstown to remain a premier volunteer fire service organization in the state. In 2017 we upgraded many of our essential components including a new Station alerting system, lock system, and internal components such as HVAC and fans. In 2018, we installed a state-of-the-art sign out front to better assist our community with messaging and fundraising notification.
For over 225 years the highly trained volunteers of the Shepherdstown Fire Department have answered the call of community service. Each year the amount of training increases, the call volume increases, and the amount of money needed to fund the organization increases. Yet, these dedicated volunteers continue to do whatever they can to meet our creed: “To Provide Our Best Possible Service, on Our Customers Worse Day.”
(2010, August). The Story of the Shepherdstown Fire Department, 1796-2008. 2010. Athey, Michael. M.
If you’d like a copy of Dr. Athey’s Book, A History of the Shepherdstown Fire Department, please Contact Us, and we will get your message to him.