Thursday, February 6, 2014

The former Fire Station 16

Most long time Four Corners residents already know this, but more recent residents may not.  What is now Papa Johns Pizza is the former Silver Spring Volunteer Fire Department (SSVFD) Station 16.

The station in the 1950s.  I believe the fire engine on the left is a 1951 Mack.  Photo from SSVFD website 

The modest 1 & 1/2 story brick building was constructed some time in 1947 to serve the growing Four Corners community.  It was the SSVFD's first sub-station, with the primary station being in Downtown Silver Spring (the former Station 1, which is now a restaurant and bar).  It was built as a home response station, meaning it had few or no living quarters.  Back when Four Corners was a less built-up place, the volume of emergency calls was much lower than it is today.  There didn't need to be personnel staffing the station at all times.  When a fire call came in, the large "air raid" siren on top of the fire station would sound, alerting volunteers in the surrounding neighborhoods, who would then drive (or run) to the station and get on the fire engines.  There were no paid staff at the station back then.

The old station during what appears to be an open house, 1950s.  Photo from SSVFD website.

For most of its service life, the station was home to two fire engines.  Fire engines are the most common form of fire apparatus.  These vehicles have hoses, a pump, and an on-board water tank.  For most fire calls, the two engines would respond together as a "two-piece engine company".  The reason for sending both vehicles was because of the scarcity of fire hydrants.  While Four Corners is a suburban area today with all the associated infrastructure, it was not back then.  Hydrants were only in certain areas, and many older homes and structures were far from a reliable water supply.

1951 Mack fire engine in front of the station.  Behind the Mack is another fire engine from the 1940's, I'm unsure of the make and model.   Photo from SSVFD website. 
When both of the engines from Four Corners responded to a fire, one piece was called the "pumper", and the other was called the "wagon".  The pumper was responsible for pumping water through its on-board pump and booster tank, and beginning the initial fire attack.  The wagon was responsible for carrying the hoses which supplied water to the pumper, using the hoses to secure a water supply while the pumper's crew began to fight the fire.  In non-hydranted rural areas, this type of system was important.  Firemen had to get water on the fire quickly, before it got out of control.  However, it also took time and effort to secure a reliable water supply from nearby creeks, streams, or wells.  Having two crews on two engines made it possible to perform both these roles in a timely fashion.

As Four Corners continued to suburbanize, fire hydrants became more widespread, and every new development had water mains.  Roads were upgraded, and new fire stations opened up nearby, meaning help from neighboring companies arrived quicker.  These factors meant that the two-piece engine company was no longer essential.  However, some departments continued to use two-piece engine companies into the 80's.  Today, the roles have been combined into one vehicle, but many rural areas still use the old method.

The fire station in the mid 1960s, after the road had been widened (1963) but before the new station opened (1968).  This photo is great for many reasons.  It is in color, and it shows the post office and the Safeway.  Also visible is a small addition on the left side of the building, as well as the house siren on the roof.  And that dog in front of the right bay might be a Dalmatian.   

By the 1960's, call volume in the area had increased.  Almost all new construction in Four Corners was complete, and the population of Station 16's response area numbered over 20,000 people.  The Beltway was completed in 1963, along with the widening of Colesville Road and University Boulevard from two-lane country roads to six-lane highways.  The station was hemmed in by the two directions of University Blvd when the road was split at the intersection, preventing station expansion.  

In 1968, the department moved half a mile east to a new firehouse, located at the intersection of University Boulevard & Williamsburg Drive near the Beltway.  The building was constructed on land that used to be part of Indian Spring Country Club.  The new station has much more space than the old station, and it has the amenities of a modern fire station with round the clock staffing.  After being taken out of service, the old station became an autp repair shop for a while, before becoming Papa Johns Pizza in the 1990's.  The building has since been painted white, and the bay doors have been replaced by large windows.  Aside from the cosmetic changes, the physical structure appears to be unchanged.

The old fire station is an interesting piece of Four Corners history, left over from an era when our community was more rural in character.  I hope it is preserved for future Four Corners residents.   

The old fire station as it appears today.  Image from Google StreetView.



  1. The 2nd floor of Engine Company 16 was the down county dispatching people. (Gaithersburg was the up County one and eventually they were combined into a bomb proof facility on Monroe Rockville - complete with huge springs under the complete floor - like that was going to help when the A bomb struck).

  2. Nice photos, Sean; I rember those Open House days during the October Fire Protection week and riding those pupers back in the '60s -- plus the small IH "wagon" ambulance -- that transported me to HC Hospital in '64 after faling out of a tree on Whitmoor Terr!

  3. We can make sure roads and driveways are wide enough, intersections are marked, and roads are here

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