James Rada, Jr.

May 9 marks 75 years since a group of concerned citizens formed the Rocky Ridge Volunteer Fire Company in 1949. Marshall Fishpaw was the first president. Although formed to fight fires, there weren’t many fires to fight. Even into the 1960s, the company responded to less than 15 fire calls a year.

So the company was also charged with other duties in its early years. A light company formed around the same time, and the fire company maintained the street lights in Rocky Ridge. Members also took care of the pond that the fire company drew water from to fight fires.

The fledgling company also had to store its equipment in available space.

“It was housed in the garage of one of the members,” said Dennis Mathias, who has had four generations of his family serve in the fire company.

Their first fire engine wasn’t purchased until 1951. It was a 1931 Model A Ford that was purchased from the Vigilant Hose Company in Emmitsburg for $1,000.

Although there wasn’t a great demand for a fire company in those days, when it was needed, residents were glad to have a company close by to help minimize the damage from fires. They supported the company, both financially and with their labor. The fire company has become a family tradition for some families in Rocky Ridge with multiple generations of families serving their community.

Kenneth Mathias was the first generation of his family to join the Rocky Ridge Fire Company in 1954, and this past March, his great-grandson, Brody Mathias, became the fourth generation to join the fire company when he turned old enough to start riding in the engine and responding to calls. Some of his early memories were of Bingo nights at the fire hall, where family would stay after to clean up and then talk. He got so tired that he would curl up and go to sleep on the floor.

“Back then, the fire company was the big thing to do in Rocky Ridge,” said Dennis. “It was about the only thing to do.”

While residents now have choices for things to do that are relatively close, the drawback has been fewer people are willing to volunteer for their local fire companies. Rocky Ridge has felt that need for volunteers as well, but so far, residents continue to support their fire company.

Charles Brauer moved from New Jersey, where he had helped form a fire company there, to Rocky Ridge in 1962. He joined the Rocky Ridge Fire Company, the first of three generations of his family that have served to date.

Although he was too young to answer fire calls, Charles’s son, Alan Brauer, started helping out around the company when he was just 10 years old. He would help take care of the equipment and train with the others so that he was prepared to join when he was old enough.

Today, when volunteer fire companies are struggling to stay volunteer, family connections and traditions like those in Rocky Ridge allow the fire company to stay volunteer and provide a valuable service to area residents.

“I joined to help out the community, but I also joined for the excitement,” said Dennis.

Jamison Mathias added, “Yes, there’s excitement, but there’s also pride in being a part of something.”

The Rocky Ridge Hall Association provided the company with its first fire hall on Long’s Mill Road just south of town in 1950.

The first new fire engine was purchased in 1955. It was a Dodge truck with an American Fire Apparatus body that had a 400-gallon booster tank and a 500 GPM front mount pump. The engine and the equipment for it cost $1,175.

In 1964, the fire company purchased 1.5 acres north of the town square on Motters Station Road. The land already had a house on it, which the fire company rented. Construction of a new fire hall on the land began in October 1965 and the building was dedicated a year later with Congressman Charles MacMathias and Maryland Comptroller Louis Goldstein attending.

The Rocky Ridge Volunteer Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary was formed in 1955.

Alan remembers responding to a house fire on Christmas Day in 1968. There weren’t enough fire helmets, so he just wore his hat. At one point, he was on the hose line and water was running off the roof onto his head.

“When I got back to the building, I had to break the ice off the front of my coat,” he said.

What sticks in his mind about that fire was how poor the people were, and they lost what little they had on Christmas.

“In the fire service, you see people on some of their worst days,” Alan added.

A more recent major fire happened in 1993. According to Rocky Ridge Fire Company website, “The blizzard of 1993 took its toll on fire calls, the company had a diabetic call where the ambulance crew came on snowmobiles, and then the company had to watch a house burn down, because the road was blocked and the engines could not get there.”

Dennis remembers that call. “The roads were drifting. We were on the state road with the snow plow ahead of us. It hit a drift and went off the road, and we couldn’t make it to the call.”

The company purchased land on Motters Station Road in 1994 for $35,500. The following year, the fire company purchased a Morton building for the new hall, a 90- by 81-foot engine room and a 30- by 102-foot office area. The new fire hall’s total area was 10,350 square feet and cost $255,000.

The Rocky Ridge Fire Company now responds to nearly 300 calls a year and remains all volunteer.

Over the years, the company and its firefighters have seen many changes. It has been in four locations. Equipment has increased the safety of firefighters and has become more effective in fighting fires. It has also grown more expensive. Firefighters also go through more training.

It all comes down to the people who are willing to serve though, and Rocky Ridge has shown that it has had those people, generation after generation.

View Rocky Ridge Fire Company’s advertisement on page 19.

Rocky Ridge VFC’s first fire engine. It was a 1931 Model A Ford that was purchased from the Vigilant Hose Company in Emmitsburg in 1951. Although no longer used, it is still kept at the fire company and used in parades.

(left) Alan Brauer; his daughter, Juliann Frantz; and Gage Frantz are members of the Brauer Family, which has had three generations in the Rocky Ridge Volunteer Fire Company. Alan also holds a picture of his father, Charles, who was the first member of the family who joined the company in 1962.

Jolene Mathias, Kelsey Mathias, Jamison Mathias, Brody Mathias, Andrew Mathias, and Dennis Mathias are three generations of the Mathias Family who have served in the Rocky Ridge Volunteer Fire Company. Kenneth Mathias, deceased, was the first generation of the family to join the fire company in 1954.

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