Throw Back Thursday - Tank Fire at Steuart Petroleum
By Vice President Michael (Mike) Roberts
March 2, 2023

Here is some additional information about the tank fire at Steuart Petroleum. I was able to go into the Enterprise Archives and retrieve the actual article written and photographs from that time. They didn’t get accurate information on all of the alarms sounded and companies responding. At the time of the fire, I had not started my career firefighter job, and was working as a 911 Operator (they didn’t call it that then, because 911 had not been implemented yet) in the old underground Control Center. When I went to work the evening after the fire, I checked the rundown of all of the companies that had responded, and I remember it like it was yesterday this way;
First Alarm;
Co, 6 Second District
Co. 3 Lexington Park (now Bay District, and Co. 9 did not exist yet)
Co. 1 Leonardtown
Co. 7 Hollywood
Second Alarm;
Co. 4 Ridge
Co. 5 Seventh District
Third Alarm;
Co, 2 Mechanicsville
Co. 2 (Charles) Hughesville
Co. 5 (Charles) Benedict
Co. 10 (Charles) Bel Alton
Fourth Alarm;
Co. 3 (Charles) Waldorf
Co. 1 (Charles) LaPlata
Co. 36 (Prince George’s) Baden
Co. 40 (Prince George’s) Brandywine)
Fifth Alarm;
Co. 2 (Calvert) Calvert County VFD (now Prince Frederick)
Co. 7 (Charles) Potomac Heights
Co. 9 (Charles) Indian Head
Co. 11 (Charles) Bryans Road
Co 13 (Naval Air Station) was dispatched as a special alarm sometime in the mix and responded with an Oshkosh MB-1 Crash/Fire/Rescue vehicle. I remember Phil Cooper was the D/O and had a couple of sailors with him from the crash crew.
The Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, the Naval Ordinance Station in Indian Head, as well as the Naval Surface Weapons Center in Dahlgren, VA sent containers of Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) to the scene via vehicles. I remember hearing that Andrews Air Force Base had also been contacted to send containers of foam, but I am unaware if that happened or not.
That was one, long night!
In 1972, with this mix of 4 different counties responding to the same incident, communications were extremely challenging, if at all. There were no mutual aid channels or inter-operability capabilities. Messages had to be relayed through the individual fire alarm centers to their respective units. Imagine responding for one hour or more to a location you have never been to before, and not being able to hear what was going on.
There were some humorous moments that night however.
During the same time frame as the fire at Steuart’s, there was a working house fire in Great Mills as well. Waldorf’s wagon, who at the time was responding to Steuart’s, was diverted to the Great Mills incident. After that fire was knocked down, they (Waldorf) still wanted to respond to Steuart’s. In their haste to back out of their position, the chrome bumper got hung up on another piece of apparatus, and got ripped from one side and bent at a 90-degree angle so that it appeared to look like a “pointer” protruding out of the front of the cab.
In another situation I heard about (not confirmed), that somebody’s wagon from up north (can’t remember who), ended up all the way down in Ridge before they realized they were headed in the wrong direction, and someone (maybe from the old firehouse in Ridge) turned them around, and sent them in the right direction. Less than 10 more minutes they would have been at Point Lookout!
Never a dull moment, and always something to smile about!

Articles and photographs courtesy of St. Mary's County Library the Enterprise Archives
Special thanks to Mike Wilson for his technical assistance with the archived items.