When Mary Klima went into labor in 1955, her father had a tough decision to make: witness the birth of his first grandson or watch a six-alarm fire at the grain elevators in Baltimore.
William Murray chose the fire.
Last Thursday night at Brooklyn Park's Meredian Nursing Home, Murray's affinity for firefighters earned him an honorary membership in the Anne Arundel County Fire Department Local 1563.
Murray, 78, was presented with a plaque and honorary membership card by Gordon Hatt, the past president of the county fire union.
"Now that you're a resident of Anne Arundel County, you're our family, too," said Hatt. "You can help us look after things here."
"How much are dues?" teased Murray, surrounded by family, friends and members of the county fire department, who all surprised Murray with the appreciation ceremony.
Hatt admired Murray's two books -- "The Rigs of the Unheralded Heroes: A Fabulous Collection of Rare Pictures," and "The UnheraldedHeroes of Baltimore's Big Blazes" -- which document the history of Baltimore and Anne Arundel multiple-alarm fires through 1976.
"I was very interested in Mr. Murray's books, particularly the first one."Hatt said. "When I met him, he autographed my book."
After the award presentation, Murray joked that he became interested in fires at about the time he set his field on fire.
But his oldest grandson, Anne Arundel firefighter Phil Klima, said Murray's fascination with flames and firefighters began at the age of 12, when he started running errands for his neighbors at the No. 6 Hook and Ladder House in Baltimore.
"I used to close the firehouse doors for them in the wintertime, too," said Murray.
Francis Kemper, longtime friend and a former lieutenant of Engine 2, remembered, "We used to call him a housecat in those days. Willy always hung around Truck 6 on Hanover Street in Baltimore."
Although Murray was running an Evening Sun route by 1929, he still had time to chase fires.
He was an honorary chief of the Baltimore City Fire Department, which gave him access to fire scenes.
"He rode the coffee wagon to the multiple-alarm fires inthe city all the time," said Phil Klima.
A disability prevented Murray from becoming a firefighter, so in the 1940s he joined the Baltimore Auxiliary Fire Brigade.
He was the curator and historian of the Baltimore Fireman's Museum on Gay and Ensor streets in Baltimore from 1951 to 1979. In 1937, the fire buff helped organize the Box 13 Club and he was made president of the Box 414 Club in 1965.
Murraymay not have set out to write a book about the fire department, but once he got started he could not stop.
"Around 1960, the city firedepartment threw away all their journals, so he got the journals andcompiled story after story," said Klima. Murray also went to the archives in the Maryland Room at Enoch Pratt Library for information andtalked to retired chiefs.
"It took him 10 years to write those books," Klima added.
Flipping through the pages of the out-of-print,"The Unheralded Heroes," Klima recalled going to the fires with his grandfather.
"I remember that fire," said Klima, pointing at the picture and text of the 1973 fire at the vacant Stieff Piano Factory. "I was a senior in high school then."
"You can tell he still thinks about it a lot," said Bridget McCormick, Meredian's assistant activities director.
"When I take him to art, he draws fire engines. Heeven writes the numbers on the trucks."
His daughter, Mary Klima,agreed. "He's still interested. He listens to the fire radio 24 hours a day, and two of his grandsons (and a granddaughter-in-law) are inthe fire department."