Fire Protection & Suppression, "By Accident"

If you were to drive through northwestern Maryland, along Interstate 68, and then on down through the tip of the panhandle along Route 219, you would travel up and down through the scenic terrain of the Alleghany Mountains, past pastoral farmland and through deep forests. Nestled in this beautiful area, near the resort area of Deep Creek Lake, is the quiet little town of Accident, MD. Not surprisingly, fire protection and suppression services are provided by the members of the Accident Volunteer Fire Department.

Photo by Michael Heller
Members of the Accident Volunteer Fire Department demonstrate rescue techniques.

Photo by Michael Heller

The residents of Accident are used to the smiles its name elicits, and even offer handouts that explain its unusual derivation: according to the town historian, in 1774 the lands "westward of Fort Cumberland" were opened for settlement by Lord Baltimore, the proprietor of the Maryland Colony. Two of the surveyors who hastened there to secure the best tracts of land were Brook Beall and William Deakins Jr. Deakins and his brother had surveyed a nice 682-acre tract one day when along came Beall, who contended he had already claimed that land, and called attention to axe marks he had made in trees to prove it. Since he and Deakins were friends, it was decided that Beall would take the land, since they had both chosen the same parcel "by accident."

Settlers started arriving in 1800, and the town was incorporated in 1916. Today, the population stands at roughly 300; however, the fire protection district, being a bit larger, includes a population of about 1,500.

It wasn't until 1946 that the first fire department was formed, the first truck being a 1947 pumper a year later. Today, the fire department utilizes five pieces of apparatus: Engines 51 and 52, Squad 55 (a walk-in rescue vehicle), Tanker 56 and a four-wheel-drive brush truck. The Accident VFD provides fire protection and suppression services only; EMS services are provided by Garrett County EMS, although the Accident VFD usually responds as well to provide support.

Not including the rescue calls, the Accident VFD responds roughly to 50 alarms annually and at last count had 35 active members, including an executive board. The protection district covers roughly 15 square miles and includes the town of Accident and its surrounding domains.

Every Fourth of July since 1989, Accident has held a Homecoming Festival, including a parade, tours, games, entertainment and demonstrations by the Garrett County Rescue Squad and the Accident VFD. It is also when the fire department holds its annual fund raiser and letter-drive. Folks come from miles around to eat, listen to music and watch the fire department demonstrate how to use the hydraulic rescue tools to remove a trapped victim from a car. As with hundreds of other small fire departments across the country, this is their day to show what they can do. But they're the only ones who can say, "It's by Accident!"

Michael Heller, a member of the International Fire Photographers Association, is a freelance photographer and writer with an interest in the fire service.