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  • Writer's pictureHeidi Schlag

Are fire departments engaged in historic preservation measures?

Updated: Jun 1

Originally published October 30, 2011. See the bottom of the post for an update from February 28, 2024.

Last week, I attended a lecture on the history of the Susquehanna Hose Company, the fire department that has guarded the small waterfront town of Havre de Grace, MD, from flames for over 100 years. Havre de Grace has many historic underpinnings, including George Washington, who often passed through town to take the ferry across the Susquehanna River; General Lafayette, who gave them their French name; and the War of 1812, where Rear Admiral George Cockburn torched the town for flying an American flag early on the morning of May 3, 1813. A few of the buildings in town survived the fire, and many more exist that date to the Civil War and the turn of the century.

During the speech the president of the fire company gave, he spoke of his fire fighters’ awareness of the historic treasures they have in town. He talked about several fires where they lost historic buildings and how upset the company was that they couldn’t save the buildings. He also talked about working with the owners of historic buildings on fire prevention.

I was amazed that I had never made the link before between the importance of getting fire companies involved in the preservation of historic buildings. I wondered if this is something that preservation organizations do regularly. A recent chat with some employees of Preservation Maryland (PM) and Baltimore Heritage (BH) showed me that this may be an overlooked concept. The PM folks said they had never thought of involving fire companies in preservation efforts and vowed to explore the idea, and the BH folks decided to host a tour next spring led by city fire fighters that addressed how they fight fires in historic buildings. This topic is especially relevant to the citizens of Baltimore as we have lost three historic buildings to fires in the past twelve months.

I’d love to hear from the rest of you on this topic – are your fire departments engaged in the historic preservation of the buildings in your cities and towns? What are some ways we can strengthen this bond?

2024 Update: Since writing this post 13 years ago (where does the time go?!), I have moved to Frederick, MD, a town that has a vital historic downtown made all the more charming by the strict historic preservation rules that have helped maintain our 150-year-old building stock. I serve on the Design committee of the Downtown Frederick Partnership, and they are focused on the issue of fire prevention. We offer a Fire Suppression Incentive Program that funds sprinkler installation to improve personal safety and preserve the historic fabric of Frederick.

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