- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2003

When the Arnold Volunteer Fire Department opened in 1943, an alarm at the top of a 20-foot tower sounded the call for members to respond to an emergency. The road from the station was unpaved, and all the turnout gear worn by firefighters was kept on the truck and shared by members.

Today, a computer dispatch system notifies the station of calls. Members are summoned by pagers to emergencies and their equipment includes a new $12,000 thermal imaging system paid for by donations.

Yesterday, volunteer firefighters in this small Anne Arundel County, Md., town about 35 miles east of the District opened the station in honor of its 60th anniversary. Face painters and balloon sculptors entertained children while volunteers demonstrated firefighting equipment and taught adults and children what to do in an emergency.

Standing outside the brick building that was once a community center and has been the volunteer company’s headquarters for six decades was Franklin Dull.

Mr. Dull, 76, has volunteered at the station since 1943, the year it opened. The retired federal employee said his reasons for joining the department when he was 16 were pretty simple.

“There wasn’t a heck of a lot to do around here then,” Mr. Dull said. He had no idea he was starting a family tradition. Mr. Dull’s son started volunteering at the station when he was 14 and grew up to become a battalion chief in the volunteer fire department.

Mr. Dull said the biggest changes are the nature of the calls, the training and the technology. The volunteers respond to more than 4,000 calls a year. Medical calls outnumber fire calls 3 to 1. Mr Dull said the ratio is opposite of that in past decades.

In the past, University of Maryland professors came out to the town to train volunteers in firefighting once a large-enough group of recruits had been assembled.

Today, students must take the same classes as professional firefighters — including firefighting, emergency medicine, hazardous materials response and terrorism response — before they set foot on an engine. The training is provided at no cost by the state through the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute at the University of Maryland.

“People think at a volunteer fire station you just come in and hang out,” said Larry Silverman, the president of the Arnold Volunteer Fire Department and a volunteer firefighter since the 1960s. “That’s the way it used to be. Nowadays you have to be somewhat dedicated because of all the training.”

He said volunteers serve for about three years on average.

According to the bylaws, the department has to have at least seven volunteers or it will be forced to close.

Mr. Silverman said there have been times when the department has come close to closing. He said there are 18 members now, with several more completing training, a membership as high as any in the station’s history. Mr. Silverman also said the number of volunteers doubled after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“We’re on an upward swing,” he said.

The station, which has never had a firefighter die in the line of duty, houses two firetrucks, a brush truck and an ambulance that provides advanced life-support. One of the firetrucks is owned by the volunteers. The other is placed at the station by the county in exchange for upkeep to the station.

All operating expenses are covered by community donations and fund-raising events. Last year, the department raised enough money from the donations to buy a $12,000 thermal imaging system.

Charles Kennedy is the station’s chief when he’s not at his day job in the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

“This gives me a chance to go out and do some physical things,” Chief Kennedy said. “And it’s for playing with the big toys. If there’s a guy here that tells you otherwise, he’s lying.”

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