- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 28, 2002

When Frank Tremel walks into his farmhouse in Owensville, Md., after feeding his horses, three Dalmatians rush to meet him. One is Maxine. The other two, Ashes and Cinders, provide a clue that the man wearing muddy boots and layers of flannel shirts leads two lives.
He's one of the top breeders of the rare American Cream Draft horse as well as the longest-serving firefighter in the District. D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Batallion Chief Tremel has been on the job for 40 years and has seen much of the city's contemporary history.
Chief Tremel already had been on the job six years by the time of the riots in 1968, when he worked three days as the wagon driver of a reserve Seagrave fire engine.
On September 11, 2001, he climbed a 100-foot aerial ladder to the roof of the Pentagon to fight the fire consuming the building after terrorists had crashed a passenger plane into it earlier in the day.
His sanctuary from firefighting for the past 20 years has been his 10-acre horse farm, a world apart, but just 30 miles away from the city.
"When everything is bad at work, I come here," he says, gazing out at the pasture one cold afternoon after feeding three of his horses. "It's a different world. It's just a different world."
He bought the farm in 1979 from the cousin of a friend. The house, the oldest in Owensville, was built in 1806. After a two-year renovation, he and his wife, Paula, moved in with their two children, Kim and Keith now 32 and 30.
Chief Tremel grew hay and tobacco as a hobby, and he was looking for a way to get his children more involved with the rural community.
"To get them to meet people, we got them involved in horses," he says. "That was one of the only activities."
Inspired by his children, he bought and bred horses for nearly a decade before he came across the American Cream Draft horse.
The breed, which traces its roots to Iowa and the early 1900s, is recognized as the only breed of draft horse that originated in America.
The horses are distinctive for their rich cream color, white mane and tail, pink skin and amber-colored eyes. They are stout and strong, and their temperament is described as trustworthy, easygoing, willing and ready to please.
The horses became endangered when tractors began to replace them on American farms. By the early 1990s, their number had dwindled to about 75.
Around that time, Chief Tremel became intrigued by an article on the endangered status of the horse, and in January 1991, he bought one from a breeder in Iowa.
That horse, Lucy, is nearly 30 years old. She stands apart from the other horses on the farm, mostly because of her age, but with a dignity befitting her status as the first of her breed in Maryland.
Chief Tremel has five others: three mares, Betsy, Sandy and Darvy; a gelding named Buster; and a stallion named Jerry that is one of 19 American Cream Draft stallions in the country and has sired three others.
"Jerry has helped the breed," Chief Tremel says with a smile.
The latest of Jerry's sons is just 3 months old. The foal stays close to his mother, Grace, and doesn't yet have a name.
In all, about 12 American Cream Draft horses have been registered through Chief Tremel's Rose Hill Farms. As foals, they sell for $2,500 to $3,000 when they're 8 months old.
Chief Tremel and breeders in Williamsburg and New Hampshire are the only breeders of the American Cream Draft horse on the East Coast, among 35 nationwide.
He recently became the president of the 125-member American Cream Draft Horse Association, which holds nationwide breeder meetings once a year and documents the revitalization of the breed around the country.
"When I first got involved with them, there were 75," Chief Tremel says. "We should top 300 this year."
On days when he is not fighting fires, he hitches the horses to buggies and goes for a ride. He still grows tobacco and hay on 50 acres on his farm and some adjacent land he leases. He says the farming pretty much pays for the cost of raising the horses.
On workdays, he gets up at about 3:30 a.m. Before heading into the District, he spends two hours feeding the horses and the Dalmatians, plus a donkey, 12 cats, two parrots, a farm-bred red-slate turkey, eight geese and eight Golden Polish chickens.
As he points out the chickens, he disappears into the coop and retrieves two brown and two white "still warm" eggs.
"The guys at Engine 11 will be eating these for breakfast Saturday," he says.
Though his schedule seems busy for anybody, it seems particularly busy for a man who was eligible to retire from the fire department two decades ago.
"Work gets me off the tractor," he says jokingly. More seriously, Chief Tremel says the District has always been part of his life. The son of a volunteer District Heights firefighter, he has never lived more than 30 miles from the city. His stepmother's father was a D.C. firefighter who retired in 1925 the same year the fire department retired its horse-drawn wagons.
"I'm the kid that grew up in Southeast and went to Suitland [High School]," he says. "It's kind of neat to say, 'Today I was in charge of the White House and the Capitol.' There's not a lot of people who can do that."
He says he never thought he would reach 40 years on the job, particularly when he joined the fire department, making just $5,160 a year before taxes.
"The funny thing is, now I'm working with the sons of people I used to work with," Chief Tremel says. "Soon it will be their grandsons."
He says he considered retiring in the early 1990s but decided to put it off until after he had paid for a new tractor. He has had that tractor 10 years; he needs a newer one and has no more illusions about retirement.
"That day hasn't come yet," is all he'll say.

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