WMVFC was founded in January 1943 as the Cowenton Volunteer Fire Company, a World War II Civil Defense Unit. When the United States entered the war in December 1941, it was recognized that incendiary enemy bombing, particularly of the east coast communities was a distinct possibility. It was also realized that existing fire defenses of that time would be overwhelmed by such a situation. The answer was the Civil Defense Trailer Pump that had worked so well in England during the Nazi Air Raids of 1940. These units were supplied by the Federal government to communities large and small along coastal areas.
The Civil Defense pumper consisted of an industrial gasoline engine of about 100 horsepower with a 500 GPM centrifugal pump, all mounted on a trailer suitable for towing by car or light truck. The unit carried two lengths of hard suction, had an exhaust primer and space for about 500 feet (150 m) of 2 1/2-inch hose. It was designed for the most basic form of exterior firefighting.
With such a piece of apparatus, seven men and seven women began serving their community in the embryonic form of what would ultimately become the Cowenton Volunteer Fire Company. The unit was stored at Gambrill’s Coal and Lumber Yard. Rudimentary training sessions were held and competitions with other nearby Civil Defense units were conducted. Fundraisers were organized and when the receipts were inadequate to meet the needs, members dug into their own pockets to make up the difference.
Although potential firebombs never materialized, the Civil Defense trailer saw use during the years in the day-to-day protection of the community from fires of other causes. After all, the nearest regular fire companies were in Essex and Fullerton, and anything closer was an improvement.
It became apparent by the beginning of 1945 that the war would be over in the near future. With the need for local fire protection that was demonstrated by the use of the Civil Defense trailer, it was decided to move forward to something more self-contained and possibly with provisions for an apparatus water tank. Plans and fundraisers were devoted to this goal. Thus, in 1945 a used 1934 Ford school bus chassis was purchased and converted into Cowenton’s first “fire engine.” In addition to the Civil Defense pump, there was also a water tank of now unknown capacity and other firefighting equipment. The unit was housed in the barn of Jane Bickel. On July 16, 1945, the Cowenton Volunteer Fire Company was incorporated. The first board of directors meeting was held Aug. 13, 1945, and the first company meeting immediately thereafter. The seven “founding fathers” were Clinton DeBaugh Sr., Clinton DeBaugh Jr., Charles “Chalkie” Elste, LeRoy “Bill” Eurice, David “Bud” Foley, John P. Foley and George Williams.
1946 saw the arrival of the company’s first commercial pumper, a six-cylinder Dodge chassis carrying a Hale 500 GPM two-stage pump, a tank of about 400 gallons capacity and a standard hose bed. In 1947, a sheet metal building was erected to the right of Jane Bickel’s home to house both the Ford and the Dodge engines. 1947 also saw the organization of the Ladies Auxiliary. Over the next 35 years, this group of women became a valuable assistance in fire company progress, serving fire ground refreshments, assisting the men in their fundraising efforts and conducting their own activities to raise money, all for the general good of the company. In addition to their active assistance, each year the fire company was given a check, the amount depending on the success of the auxiliary fundraising events. However, the admission of women to full company membership in 1972 was the death-knell for the auxiliary. They managed to hang on for another decade until Oct. 25, 1982, when they gave the fire company a check for $1,000 and put the remainder of their finances into the Bessie Marshall Fund and disbanded.
1950 saw further progress, building on land donated by William E. Carroll and Fred Gambrill and work was begun on the older part of the company’s previous fire station. This same year saw Cowenton begin community ambulance service using a 1940 unit donated by the Bird River Improvement Association.
On Oct. 1, 2003, the membership of the Cowenton Volunteer Fire Company voted to change its name to the White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company in order to reflect the growing geographic location that the company serves. From this humble beginning, White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company has grown over the years. None of this would have been possible without the continuous and longtime support of the community of White Marsh, Perry Hall and surrounding areas, both business and residential.
We remember our past history and are excited to write the history of what is to come.