Established Early 1900's
Organized January 23, 1923
Incorporated August 26,1927
Joined Maryland State Volunteer Firemens Association 1923
Joined Prince George's County Volunteer Firemans Association 1923
The Riverdale Fire Department owes it's roots to the foresight of Sergeant Owen Mulligan, who utilized a local hose/reel company to extinguish fires within Riverdale up to the time the Riverdale Fire Department was officially organized. During his tenure, Sergeant Mulligan and others would respond to cries for help and for fires within the area, most probably with a bucket brigade type operation. There is little record of any apparatus used at the time, other than the hand-made hose/chemical cart. This was a device that utilized a chemical reaction to acheive water pressure in the attached hose and nozzle. If there were a need for emergency assistance, these men did their best with the resources at hand.
In the early 1920's, the Riverdale Park Company, a coal fuel company in Riverdale, proceeded to purchase the land around the Calvert Mansion in Riverdale to be re-subdivided into an area to be called Riverdale Park Subdivision. During this time, the Riverdale Park Company, Sergeant Mulligan and like minded individuals, provided fire service to the citizens of Riverdale and to protect the homes under construction in the area. The firemen in Riverdale, along with Sergeant Mulligan had made a hose/chemical cart in the early 1910's for fire fighting within the town, and although this unit was adequate for fire fighting at the time, it was difficult to use because it had to be hand drawn to the scene of a fire, creating at times and insurmountable delay. Since the hose/chemical cart had some value, an additional unit was built by the volunteers in 1927 for the west side of the B&O Railroad tracks and housed in a garage used by the Riverdale Park Company, alongside their offices in Riverdale. These chemical carts were so soundly made that one still exists on display in it's original condition at the Leznick Fire Museum in Manassas, Virgina.
Seeing a need for an organized fire fighting force within the Town of Riverdale, Sergeant Mulligan joind his forces with the original seventeen chartering members and others to form the Riverdale Fire Department. The Riverdale Fire Department was officially formed on January 23, 1923 by Mayor J. Borrows Waters and civic minded individuals that wanted to protect athe citizenry of Riverdale from the ravages of fire. It was only fitting that an official fire department be formed, since an unofficial one had existed for over ten years. This was also prompted since the local water authority, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission started laying water mains and plugs in the area. On February 5, 1923 the Riverdale Fire Department joined the Maryland State Firemen's Association. Things progressed in the fire fighting and rescue aspects of the department and on Audust 26, 1927, the Riverdale Fire Department was officially incorporated through the State of Maryland.
The fire fighting chemical carts were the mainstay of the Riverdale Fire Department until 1931 when the department purchased it's first motorized pumper. This was a 1931 Buffalo-Ford 500 gallon per minute pumper. Due to the financial situation the country was in, especially in a small and building town like Riverdale, money was in very short supply for one of these purchases. As in quite a few cases, the State Legislature created a special four year, ten cent tax to help finance the new fire truck at Riverdale.
Since the Riverdale Fire Department has been located one block from the B&O Railroad tracks since 1926, it seemed only fitting that the Riverdale Fire Department take delivery of their new pumper from a flatbed raliroad car, which was commonplace in that era. HOwever, as fate would have it, there was an unexpected additional one hundred dollar delivery charge, payable upon receipt of the pumper. Being a poor department and not having the funds to meet this new expenditure, and since the railroad flatbed car was already in Riverdale, with Riverdale's pumper, the volunteer firemen helped themselves to what they felt was their pumper. Essentially liberating (stealing) it from the railroad siding and hiding it in one of the member's garages. Either the manufacturer paid the one hundred dollars or the railroad wrote it off, but all was forgiven. It was felt that this vehicle could do much more good fighting fires than sitting on a railroad car.
Much has been said as to why there are white fire trucks. This question has been debated for some time. The answer that is most commonly given around Riverdale is that fire trucks have always been white and black with gold trim. This is the way it was in the 1920's in Riverdale and the that is the way things are today. With the fire service changing constantly, with new innovations and standards being set, it is refreshing to see in Riverdale that some traditions remain. From the original pictures of our resuce boat, motorcycle with side car and our very first pumper to our new ninety-five foot elevating platform, it is basically the same color scheme. Some things should and do remain the same.
There were times when having white apparatus was quite patriotic. This occured when a call was dispatched in an area where the fire department ran with their neigboring company, Riverdale Heights. Riverdale Heights had one red fire pumper and a second pumper that was painted blue. This unit was apparently a used peice, possibly a government surplus pumper. When a call was dispatched, Riverdale Height's pumper was first to respond, Riverdale's apparatus was second to respond, followed by Riverdale Height's second pumper. Giving anyone watching a truly patriotic scene in seeing red, white, and blue apparatus responding to a call.
To help augment the efforts of the volunteer firemen in Riverdale, Mr. Daniel S. Herzog, maintained a rescue squad in the late 1920's. This was in addition to his official duties as the first volunteer police officer for Riverdale. The rescue squad consisted of an aluminum boat with a flatbed trailer and a motorcycle with sidecar. Officer Herzog's rescue unit was used primarily when the Anacostia Riverdale crested it's banks and caused flooding throughout the town. It wasn't until the realignment of the Northeast Branch of the Anacostia in the early 1950's that the flooding was greatly reduced, but not totally eliminated. In 1930, Herzog was officially appointed the Police Chief, even though it was still on a non pay/volunteer basis. Since his duties leaned more towards law enforcement, the Rescue Squad was absorbed by the Fire Department early on and incorporated into one department.
Our next acquisition of apparatus was a 1934 Diamond T front mount pumper. This unit, dubbed Engine 72, was decorated with some of the most ornate gold leafing available at the time. This brought our complement of fire fighting apparatus up to two motorized pumpers and two chemical carts.
Since our first trophy was captured in Mount Rainier, Maryland on August 11, 1928, the firemen have won over 500 awards, gifts, or certificates. One of the most important of the honors copped by Riverdale was the World Record Hook-up time of 10.45 seconds, which was won on October 1, 1932 in Rockville. This record still stands today and probably will never be broken, giving a certain pride in acheiving this honor.
In 1926, on the present sight of the fire department, a fire house was built to house the apparatus and provide a meeting place for the townspeople. This was a brick structure with a siren tower on the roof. The firehouse faced what was then Arthur Avenue, which is now 48th Avenue. By the early 1930's, it was evident that we were outgrowing our original fire house with swing out doors. In the mid 1930's plans were drawn up and approved to build a new firehouse in Riverdale. This new structure was built in 1937 using federal public works funds and was designed to house the fire apparatus of the time, plus a town meeting hall was incorporated into the plan for the second floor over the firehouse. During subsquent years it has been necessary to build several additions onto the existing firehouse. In the early 1950's the first addition was made to house the new ladder truck, which was a new service provided by the firefighters of Riverdale. This addition also housed the town administrative offices and the police department. In the early 1960's a second addition was made to create a living quarters, office, kitchen, and lounge for the firemen, this was done to assist in a faster response, and since some firemen were beginning to live at the firehouse, to create a home like atmosphere.