In the early summer of 1899, much of downtown Laurel was destroyed by a fast-moving fire. According to legend, the fire started when a kerosene lamp got tossed by an angry gambler during a rowdy card game.
Since the town had no fire department, firefighting equipment from Wilmington and two Maryland towns was summoned. But, given the distance over primitive roads, firefighters did not arrive in time to save the town’s business district, which largely consisted of wooden buildings.
After assessing the damage, in October 1899 Laurel formed its own fire company, using volunteers and hand-drawn firefighting equipment. By 1915, the town, hoping to avoid another devastating fire, had raised enough money to buy a motor-driven fire truck — an American LaFrance.
Similarly, other towns in southern Delaware, awakened by the fire in Laurel, created volunteer fire departments of their own, first using hand- or horse-drawn equipment and, later, graduating to firefighting trucks that were motor-driven.
“A lot of the rest of the (fire) companies were founded in that same 1900s time frame,” said Jim Bowden, president of the Georgetown Historical Society.
To commemorate the early days of firefighting in Sussex County, many of the volunteer fire companies have saved — or reacquired — historic firefighting equipment from their community’s past.
And many of them will bring the vintage equipment to display in Georgetown Saturday, July 11. The antique fire truck show, sponsored by the Georgetown Historical Society, will be at the Marvel Carriage Museum.
INAUGURAL ANTIQUE FIRE TRUCK SHOW
When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturday, July 11
Where: Marvel Carriage Museum, 510 S. Bedford St., Georgetown
For more information, view www.delmarvanow.com