In the beginning ...
Tuesday night, June 29th, 1937, there was a birthday
party being held in the Silver Slipper bar, at the
beach in Betterton. Everyone enjoyed themselves and
had a good time. By 2 a.m., all had gone and the bar
was closed. Around 6 a.m., smoke was seen coming
from the building housing the Silver Slipper and a
gift shop. Soon, cars were riding around town,
blowing their horns to awaken the residents and
people were hollering FIRE! FIRE!. You see, there
wasn't any fire siren in Betterton at that time,
because there wasn't any fire company. Calls went
out to Rock Hall, Chestertown and Millington, the
only fire companies in Kent County at that time.
Townspeople began throwing water on the fire with
buckets or whatever they could find. This certainly
wasn't much help to a fire this big, so the flames
quickly spread. When the fire companies arrived,
they went right to work and did their usual good
job, saving part of the Boardwalk, the Ericsson Line
pier and the Hotel Chesapeake. The buildings housing
the concessions were all frame, so about half of
Betterton's amusements were destroyed, including a
pier, bowling alleys, pool tables, dance hall, bath
houses and numerous other concessions.
There was a lot of talk around town for the rest of
the summer and even into the winter about the fire,
but the question most often asked was "What would
have happened if we would have had a fire company
right here in Betterton?" The talk soon led to
action and in the spring, the Betterton Volunteer
Fire Company was born. A new infant in the town, but
destined to grow like any other infant.
The Betterton Volunteer Fire Company, Inc. was
organized on March 8, 1938. The first truck, a 1917
Seagrave 1750 GPM pumper, came to town the night
before. Norris Arment, a Betterton resident, was a
former engineer for the Franklin Fire Co. in
Chester, PA. He made arrangements to buy the truck
when he heard Franklin had to get rid of it. He
bought the truck for $450.00, using his own money,
went to Chester to get it and house it in his
garage, at the beach. Needless to say, Mr. Arment
was elected to be the first chief. On June 1, 1938,
a rental agreement was signed, to cover three years
until June 1941, at $15.00 per month, for the garage
rent. Suppers were held in the Methodist Church and
money was raised to pay Mr. Arment back his $450.00.
Betterton Volunteer Fire Company was off and
Later, another piece of equipment was purchased.
Once more, Mr. Arment bought it from Franklin Fire
Co. This was a 19-- Pierce Arrow rescue truck, much
smaller than "BIG BERTHA". There was no pump nor
water on this truck, as it carred ropes, axes, pry
bars, sledge hammers and other types of rescue
equipment. If this wasn't the first rescue truck in
the area, it was one of a very few. It was way ahead
of its time and wasn't used to its full capacity.
People in those days would come upon on an accident,
get the occupants out of the cars and take them to
the hospital in their own cars. Because of this, the
truck was loaded with extra hose and other fire
fighting equipment and used as a general purpose
March, 1939, saw a second pumper also purchase from
Chester. This was a 1919 American LaFrance 750
gallon pumper. Now they figured they were in good
shape, except they didn't have much water. Charles
Clark talked an oil company into donating an old oil
tanker to the company. This was a 1932 Chevrolet and
believed to be the first tank truck on the Eastern
This young company was on the move. Two pumpers, one
of which was the largest of it's kind in the
country, plus the first rescue truck and the first
tanker on the shore. A new fire house was needed and
Mr. Arment's lease ran out in 1941. Mr. Ernest
Horsey donated the ground, a loan was arranged and
the first fire house was built in 1940 and 1941.
"BIG BERTHA" broke a crank shaft and was stored in
another garage, but the other three pieces of
equipment were housed in the new fire house.
In 1945, truck #1, later to become #51, was selected
to become Betterton's first "New" fire truck. A 1945
Chevrolet chassis was obtained from the U.S. Army,
which had all the trucks tied up for the war effort.
Faces really lit up as this "New Bought" truck was
brought home from New York with its 500 gallon tank
and 550 GPM pump.
Later, new chassis were bought for tank trucks,
tanks were transferred from one truck to another.
Front end pumps were put on some, etc. and so it
went. As one was fixed up or replaced, the old ones
were sold to individuals, after they had put in a
lot of faithful service.
Then, in 1963, present truck 54 was bought -- NEW.
Another new-bought truck?? This was a 1962 Ford,
with a 750 gallon pump, and a 1000 gallon tank. In
1969, #55, another new-bought truck was added in the
firehouse. This 1969 Ford carried a 1500 gallon
tank, with a 750 GPM pump.
In 1970, The Betterton Volunteer Fire Co. fire house
#1 - 1946 Chevy - 550 pump
and 275 tank
Then in 1980, a piece of
equipment was added that would change the company's
service to its people, as well change the lives of
some members of the company. This was the donation
of the 1976 Chevy Suburban, by Tenneco. This was
used as an emergency truck, making runs with the
Kent & Queen Anne's Rescue Squad in the area. The
population of Betterton was 327, and the fire
company had 12 E.M.T.'s (Emergency Medical
Technicians), eligible to respond with this vehicle
to fires, accidents and medical calls. All types of
medical equipment was carried on this truck, along
with a 12,500 lb. Cascade system. The calls for this
truck and its devoted crew made a big change in the
number of calls. There was a time, when if we had 20
or 30 calls, we had a busy year. One year, we
answered 13 fire alarms. In 1987, we responded to
#2 - 1948 Dodge - 500 pump and 1100 tank
#3 - 1953 Chevy - 500 pump and 850 tank
#4 - 1962 Ford - 750 pump and 1000 tank
#5 - 1969 Ford - 750 pump and 1500 tank
This was the company, as a rule, up into the 80s. In
fact, until 1988. Then along comes "BIG BERTHA'S"
cousin, a new American War Eagle pumper. This truck,
new #53, which would replace the old #53 tanker, has
a 1500 GPM pump and a 1500 gallon tank. It was one
of the most modern pieces of equipment on the market
at the time. It's length and weight is just about
like that of "BIG BERTHA". The most significant
difference between the two would have to be the
price. The first truck cost $450.00 and the 1988 WAR
Eagle cost $193,000.00. What a difference 50 years
(with minor changes) from the Betterton Volunteer
Fire Company 50th Anniversary Commemorative Program.