It's not hard to see why Edmund G. Schwartz's wife has drawn the line.

"I'm not allowed above the steps with this stuff," he says with a smile.

But one look at the truly amazing amount of firefighting equipment and memorabilia that Mr. Schwartz has collected over the past 17 years and you can see that here is a collector who is very nearly out of control -- and proud of it.

Mr. Schwartz's collection flows from floor to ceiling throughout the three-room basement and garage of the couple's Hampstead home. And nearly every inch of that floor and wall space is packed with things.

"I'm running out of space. I need another room," he says, eyeing up the stairway.

There are hundreds of model and toy firetrucks, hundreds of badges and pins, dozens of shoulder patches and at least as many helmet shields, not to mention the dozens of helmets. Every company from Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Carroll County is represented on those walls.

There are lanterns, fire hose nozzles, hydrants, call boxes, fire extinguishers, fire truck emblems and large metal plaques from fire houses that have closed.

Two life-sized mannequins wear firefighting gear. Another wears a dress uniform. There are scale models of fires being fought and a cutaway model of a Baltimore firehouse.

Paintings, firehouse coffee mugs, puzzles, dolls -- anything that you can imagine that has any relationship at all to firefighting is in that basement.

And as you might guess, even Mr. Schwartz himself is a firefighter, a lieutenant in the Baltimore County Fire Department, stationed at Woodlawn Station No. 3.

His fascination with firefighting started early. He began hanging around the firehouse on Reisterstown Road when he was 13 and his family lived in Pimlico. The Schwartzes moved to Owings Mills shortly after that, and he joined the fire company there as a junior member when he was 16. He became a professional Baltimore County firefighter in 1982.

He pulls out a thick ring binder from a shelf of many.

"These are copies of old photographs -- old photographs of Baltimore city and county firehouses through time," he says.

Mr. Schwartz can show you the history of the modern fire helmet just by reaching up to a high shelf. He has examples that trace it from leather to metal to plastic.

The sound of scanners can be heard throughout the house.

"They're everywhere," he says. "There's a couple here, one upstairs, one in my truck, one in my boy's room. I used to have one in the bedroom, but I don't anymore."

Mr. Schwartz comes from a family of firefighters. His great-uncle was first, working in the Baltimore City Fire Department through the '30s, '40s and '50s. His father, Fred Schwartz, joined his uncle in the department in 1953 and is now a battalion commander.

His brother Bobby is a captain, and his brother Tommy a lieutenant, in the Baltimore County Fire Department.

And his son Edmund Jr. is a junior firefighter in the Hampstead Volunteer Fire Co.

His collection started when someone gave him a helmet shield in 1975 when he was 17.

"Then I went around and gathered up my father's old stuff, and put it in my bedroom at home. And it just kind of grew from there. I got my father to bug other firemen, and they would send me old stuff they had lying around their lockers.

"Nobody else in the family collects. There's not room for two of us. But my whole family helps me out."

His daughter Kathy and wife, Darlene, are somewhat bemused bystanders who help him with the collection from time to time.

His wife also comes from a firefighting family. Her father was captain of the Liberty Road station for 20 years and her brother Chuck Dennis belongs to the Hampstead company.

To find things, Mr. Schwartz travels to fire memorabilia shows -- to a large yearly show in Valhalla, N.Y., and to smaller ones nearby, including an annual one in Baltimore's Festival Hall. He also goes to city auctions of surplus equipment and has even picked up a few things at nearby Snyder's Auction. And, he gets things from friends and trades with other collectors.

"I was collecting everything, but it got overwhelming after a while, so now I just stick with Maryland stuff."

He used to own a fire engine, a 1943 Chevrolet.

"When we moved out here I didn't have anyplace to keep it, so I got rid of it," he says. "The trouble with owning a fire engine is there's so much maintenance. They eat you out of house and home."

One of the most unusual things in his collection is an old, white, dented door, all that remains of a fire truck from Company No. 46 that was involved in a horrible accident in the 1940s in which two fire trucks collided at the intersection of Park Heights and Rogers Avenue.

"It killed four or five firefighters," he says.

"They say it's haunted, but the guy I got it from is 90 years old. I figured it didn't bother him any."

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