Volunteers parade their pride as firefighters


VOLUNTEER FIRE FIGHTERS from Gambrills' Station No.7 played host over the weekend to the 71st annual convention of the Anne Arundel County Volunteer Firefighters Association.

Convention meetings dealt with the usual business of running a large organization, such as induction of new officers and administrative tasks. Banquets and a golf tournament were part of the fun. But the highlight was Saturday's firefighters' parade around Crofton Parkway.

Hand-waving members of 28 fire companies made their way around the three-mile circular route with about 75 pieces of equipment. Ambulances -- lights flashing and, on some, sirens blaring-joined in celebration of the work done by thousands of volunteers who watch over the safety of their communities.

All along Crofton Parkway, families set up folding chairs so that they could relax while the parade rolled by. Two-year-old James Stafford found a more convenient seat, the curb, where he perched in wonder as the trucks passed, eyes wide in delight.

For young children and for those of us who profess to be grown up, firefighters are special heroes and firetrucks almost an obsession. So this parade was a delight. There were all kinds of trucks, new and old, yellow and red, ladder trucks, pumpers, brush units, ambulances and fire chief cars.

There were pretty girls, too, fire prevention princesses reigning on flower-strewn floats.

The parade made its way around the parkway from Urby Drive to Duke of Kent, where the vehicles were joined by marching bands and continued to the end of the route at Crofton Country Club.

There, a different kind of fun was just beginning as convention- goers and visitors enjoyed lunch, checked out some of the vehicles and, best of all, took part in the annual Firefighters' Games. A variety of contests showcased the firefighters' strength, teamwork, talent and training.

In the "apparatus pull," fire-fighters pulled a firetruck through the parking lot.

The bucket brigade was fun. Teams of firefighters lined up to move buckets of water from a plastic "pond" to a nearby wall, throw the water over the wall and try to fill a container on the other side. The team getting the most water in the container won the competition.

In the fire-athlon, contestants were timed as they jumped out of bed and ran through obstacles and through a window.

My favorite, the Battle of the Bucket, was a kind of reverse tug of war. A bright yellow bucket was suspended from a wire joining two high posts. At each end of the wire, a team of firefighters representing an area station stood with fire hoses, each team aiming the stream of water in an attempt to push the bucket until it clanged against the opponent's post.

All around the parking lot, people yelled and screamed their support of the battling firefighters. And water was everywhere, pouring over the contestants and drifting in a soft wet cloud of mist around the onlookers.

It was great.

But the convention was about more than fun. It was also about pride in a tradition of serving community safety. The firefighters are volunteers whose "real"jobs include farming, corporate sales, health care and retail.

Many are following a tradition of family commitment to firefighting. Stephanie Jamieson, an emergency medical technician volunteer at Station 7,is proud of her father's and brother's long years as volunteer fire chiefs.

Laura Woods, Station 7 chaplain, counts her father, husband, daughter and grandson among the ranks of volunteer firefighters.

Ernest Hilliard, a retired Prince George's County volunteer, still loves firetrucks. He owns 16 of them, purchased when they could no longer be used by their fire companies.

One of his fleet, a favorite with parade viewers, is known as an antique in firetruck circles, having been put into service in 1958. After 42 years, the truck has only 16,626 miles on the odometer.

As Hilliard pointed out, the trip from a fire station to a house is usually just a few miles. But covering those few miles quickly with the right equipment is critical during an emergency. Hilliard's truck has a 65-foot ladder, which he keeps in working order.

Bill Gertz, a Gambrllls farmer, remembers the day more than 40 years ago when he first saw a beautiful red firetruck owned by the Odenton Fire Department. At the time, Gertz was a youngster who loved to help out the firefighters.

He hadn't gone through official training, but he knew the firefighters could always use an extra flashlight and help carrying things. One day, he went to the Baldwin United, Methodist Church, responding to a fire call. It turned out to be a false alarm, but Gertz saw a new red fire engine from Odenton, also answering the call. "Boy, would I love to drive that truck," he recalls thinking.

Many years later, when he heard that the department was selling the truck, Gertz jumped at the chance. He has lovingly maintained the truck's bright red shine and proudly drove it through Crofton.

Over the weekend, volunteers renewed old friendships and exchanged ideas on improving their departments' skills. They shared good memories and grieved losses.

Anne Arundel County is blessed to have volunteers willing to put their lives on the line, with no personal gain, so that we can all be a little safer.

'Women's group to meet

The Christian German Amencan Women's Group will resume its monthly meetings at noon Monday in the blue room at the Chapel Center in Fort Meade. After a period of prayer, the group will enjoy a German lunch. Then pianist Heidi Zech will lead a singing session.

New members -- women interested in German language and culture -- are welcome.

Information: Irene Kucholik, 301-621-7862.

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