HALFWAY HOUSE BUILDING FIRE, 11-13-73, EARLEIGH HEIGHTS - THREE ALARMS
ON TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 1973, Anne Arundel County, MD, fire companies responded to a three-alarm fire at the “Halfway House” tavern and bar located on the southwest corner of Ritchie Highway and Earleigh Heights Road, across the street from Company #12 (Earleigh Heights)’s fire station.
The fire in the one to one-and-a-half story wood frame constructed building was reported at 2:56 A.M. by a county police officer. The building stood where the 7-11 store-shopping center is located today, but closer to Ritchie Highway.
Lieutenant (Retired) Melvin Thomas was a pump operator assigned to Company #12 “A” Shift at the time. He stated that when he opened up the station’s overhead door, smoke from the fire filled the engine bays.
Thomas quickly responded with Engine 123 to the flaming building directly across the street from the fire station. He reported, “Fire showing from the north side. Strike the 2nd alarm ,” adding, “If a truck is not on the 2nd add one!”
Thomas found a hydrant on the west side of Ritchie Highway and laid lines into the fire ground. He remembers Richard “Doc” Stone responding from Green Haven in Truck #14 on the first alarm for Phantom Box 276. The flames were already 50 feet into the air.
Approximately six-miles to the south at Company #17 (Arnold), Lieutenant Mike Wiley (Retired) was assigned as the pump operator. He was in bed but heard the channel #2 radio chatter as units were going “out-of-service” to the Halfway House.
When Wiley heard Thomas’ report requesting the 2nd alarm he jumped out of bed and dressed. As first engine 2nd alarm, Wiley was out the door with Engine #172 as the box was being struck. He responded driver only.
Upon arriving on location, Wiley’s assignment was to lay double lines (both sides of the split hose bed on E-172 had 3” hose – uncommon for that period) from the hydrant in front of Company #12’s station to Truck #33 (Glen Burnie) who had set up a water tower operation.
After about an hour, the fire was declared under control. When Wiley was ordered to rack up his hose, he requested help from those in charge since he was by himself. Truck #33’s crew would end up helping Wiley. He remembers Dave Bond, as a pump operator assigned to the truck helping to re-rack the hose.
Later Wiley would use this incident as a striking example of the staffing shortage that existed at #17. He would politic via the local fire union (Local 1563) for a shift firefighter that would eventually be approved approximately four to five months later.
Authorities stated that although this fire was arson, it was not related to the rash of Glen Burnie tavern fires that lit up north county's night skies over the past three years. It was stated by police that in the Glen Burnie fires, there were no robberies.
The Halfway House was ransacked (vending machines emptied of money) before it was torched. An empty kerosene can was found outside behind the rear of the building. A county source quoted that “This fire was set by a different bunch of animals.”
The building was totaled and never rebuilt. The damage was listed as $125 – 150,000. Eleven companies with 50 firefighters responded to the fire.
Mike Wiley would finally get his shift firefighter, Bob Copeland. However he would only work with Copeland for about 4 shifts as Wiley’s transfer was approved shortly afterwards for the newly built Company #23 (Jones Station). Melvin Thomas transferred into Wiley’s old slot at #17.
In December 1975, Thomas was assigned to Company #21 (Harmans-Dorsey) "C" Shift as a lieutenant and Richard “Doc” Stone was his pump operator.
Yes – the Halfway House was another “A” Shift fire!
Photos - clippings from MD Gazette.
Engine photos courtesy of Joseph MacDonald.
I would like to thank Mike Wiley, Melvin Thomas and Joe MacDonald for their contribution to this article.