It's time to honor the past, firefighters say.
It’s been said that heroes are the people who run toward danger instead of away from it.
That commitment is apparent every day at the Little Creek firehouse, where a group of volunteer Kent Countians has been fighting fires and rescuing people for 75 years.
They observe their diamond anniversary Sept. 8 -- just four days short of its official founding on Sept. 12, 1943 -- with a parade and open house. Planning has been underway for more than 18 months.
Fire company members decided their 75th year would be a good time to celebrate their heritage, Chief Scott Bundek said.
“A lot of our older members have passed on,” he said. “It marks the point where we can turn things over to a younger generation.”
‘Anniversary coming up’
The celebration was the brainchild of Bill Carrow, a member of the Smyrna fire company for more than 40 years, who only joined Little Creek three years ago.
“The minute I joined, I said ‘there’s an anniversary coming up,’” Carrow said. “We didn’t want to lose the opportunity to honor the fire company and its members.”
Kent companies in Felton, Bowers, and Marydel had diamond anniversaries, so it was only right that Little Creek do the same, he said.
Carrow soon found himself chairman of a 13-member committee, which quickly set to making plans.
In addition to the celebratory parade, an anniversary dinner Oct. 20 will pay homage to all members, past, and present.
“We’re working to get as many former members of the company there,” Carrow said.
The parade itself has been organized by Ed Strouse.
“We’ll lead off with the Delaware State Police and Dover Police Department motorcycle patrols,” Strouse said. The grand marshal, whose identity is a closely-kept secret, will follow.
Sixteen fire companies, including Leipsic, Dover, Magnolia, Bowers, Five Points and Dover Air Force Base will take part, providing a feast for the eyes of any fire equipment devotee. Some will parade fire company apparatus, while others will march down the parade route.
Music will be by Citizen’s Hose Company of Smyrna’s marching band.
Lt. Michael Scotto, a 38-year member of the New York fire department, and an instructor at the New York City Fire Academy, will be master of ceremonies.
The parade route will take up most of the one-mile stretch of Route 9 through the town. Although Strouse expects a majority of the town’s 225 residents will line the sidewalks, that will be augmented by visitors wishing to see the parade. Since the roadway will be closed off about 30 minutes before the noon start, sightseers will be directed to parking at some of the former restaurants at the south end of town near the Little River.
A need fulfilled
An 80-page softcover book detailing the company’s history is a highlight of the anniversary. In producing it, firefighter Donald Edwards went back through the company’s earliest records, some handwritten. The book includes a decade-by-decade history, dozens of historic photos and complete listings of all fire chiefs, company presidents and auxiliary presidents.
“It shows how we started and how we got to where we are now,” said anniversary committee member Angie Strouse.
Little Creek itself dates to the early 1800s, and legend has it some of its earliest inhabitants were pirates who sailed the Delaware Bay. Although there had been fires in the town and its environs throughout its history, a major blaze during World War II prompted the town to form a fire company.
The fire broke out Monday, Aug. 23, 1943, at a vacant home owned by waterman Leroy Short. Fire crews from Dover, Camden-Wyoming, North Bowers, Smyrna, and Cheswold were called in.
But the time it took to notify these companies, even with Dover just four miles away, doomed the Short home. It took three hours to extinguish the blaze. It destroyed the house and seriously damaged an adjoining home, which once had been the Methodist parsonage, rented by a widow named Julia Gooden. Newspaper accounts reported neighbors were rushing to carry furniture out.
A strong wind from the southwest carried sparks that set two homes on either side of the Short house ablaze.
The fire was a call to action. Just over two weeks later, a group of residents met at the schoolhouse to form a new fire company. What was called the Ladies Auxiliary was organized a week later.
Members then tackled the problem of where to situate their firehouse. President George Haggerty had bought the seriously damaged former parsonage and donated its salvaged lumber, but the parsonage’s old lot was considered too small. So the group bought the lot where Leroy Short’s fire-damaged home once stood.
The building itself was completed in December 1944.
In the meantime, the company paid $600 for a Chevrolet truck chassis and later bought the necessary hoses and buckets. Since the makeshift truck didn’t meet state and county standards, in September 1945 the company paid $2,000 for a truck from the Camden-Wyoming Fire Company.
History of a sort was made in 1948 when the company paid just over $2,600 for its first brand-new truck, a KB7 International. That is now is the company’s parade truck.
A fireman’s sacrifice
The company was in its 16th year when, on Jan. 3, 1965, tragedy struck when firefighter Franklin L. “Corky” Hurley Sr., 46, died while on a call. News reports say Hurley, a World War II veteran, was inside a burning home on Port Mahon Road when he collapsed. His son Franklin Jr., nicknamed Poochie, carried the stricken man outside.
The coroner determined Hurley, who often played Santa Claus at fire company Christmas parties, had a fatal heart attack.
Hurley’s younger son, Danny, who at age 80 has been a fire company member for 65 years, remembers watching his father go inside to check on Poochie.
“He was afraid one of his boys was going to get hurt,” Danny said. “I’ll never forget that day.”
Hurley’s death remains the only fatality in the company’s long history.
A sense of family
Today, the Little Creek Fire Company continues to prosper. Its original membership of about 20 has grown to 145 active firefighters, with both men and women in all capacities. In 2017 the company answered 277 calls and so far in 2018, 175. On average, 18 people turn out each time the siren wails across Little Creek.
Company members can call on 13 pieces of equipment, including a decontamination unit, a water-carrying John Deere Gator for off-road work and three marine rescue boats, one of which is kept docked at the Port Mahon pier. The company has a mutual aid agreement with New Jersey in case the boats are needed across the Delaware River.
Little Creek is responsible for a large but sparsely populated fire district with wooded areas and wetlands, made up of state wildlife areas and two approach zones for Dover Air Force Base.
That’s a lot of responsibility for the descendants of the men who formed the company 75 years ago. Fire company president Ken Frazier was brought to the firehouse by his parents when he was barely 3 years of age.
“It’s the thing to do,” he said. “You have fathers here, and so you have kids here, too.”
Firehouses can be a family gathering place, Strouse said.
“There’s a sense of pride here, a sense of helping your community,” he said. “The children see that and they want to join.”