The Soviet Union's highest-ranking firefighter paid a visit to Howard County on Thursday to get a look at U.S. firefighting techniques, although he found a system designed in much the same way as his Russian homeland's.
"I feel we are very close," said Anatoly K. Mikeev, the lieutenant general for the Soviet main fire department.
The Soviet Union uses a system staffed by career and volunteer firefighters, much like Howard County and most U.S. fire departments.
"Of course, in the Soviet Union we have 20 million volunteers," Mikeev said through an interpreter during a visit to an Ellicott City firehouse.
"We have a vast number of people, because we have a vast country."
And what of rivalry between volunteer and career firefighters, who traditionally have been at odds in America since the 1950s?
Is there a power struggle and jealous rivalry between the 20 million Soviet volunteers and the 420,000 "paramilitary" professional firefighters?
"We have no rivalry of that nature," Mikeev said with a look of resolve. "Both sides value each other. There is no squabbling. We have very good relations between the two."
Mikeev, who along with two other Soviet officials has been touring various U.S. nuclear power installations, wanted to "get a sense of community firefighting," said Patrick M. Madden, an engineer with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Thursday was an free day in the general's tour, which has also taken him to Tennessee, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Madden said the Soviets had an interest in seeing fire prevention at the local level, so he arranged to have them visit Howard County.
So Madden, a Howard County firefighter in the late 1970s who hasbeen touring with Mikeev, took the Soviets to see the Ellicott City station and the Banneker firehouse.
At the Columbia stop, the Soviet general got a chance to put on firefighting gear and ride the bucket of a firetruck.
"We wanted to give him a flavor of a local firedepartment," Madden said. "It's an offbeat chance for him to see something other than fire safety techniques for nuclear reactors."
Mikeev said American firefighters seem to be armed with more advanced technical equipment than Soviet professional firefighters, who are primarily funded by the state budget. U.S. firefighters are financed by local governments.
But the sense of camaraderie between firefighters at the Howard County fire stations "is very much the same" as in the Soviet Union, Mikeev said.
"I feel very much at home here. I'veseen a lot of good will between the firefighters, a lot of honesty and sincerity, a lot of care about what they do," he said.
While atthe Banneker station, the Soviets watched firefighters scramble intoaction for a call, said Lt. Jeff King of the county Fire Department.
"They seemed thrilled to watch us go into action and to see us use our equipment," King said.
Afterward, the Soviets were given Howard County flags by County Executive Charles I. Ecker. Mikeev, in turn, presented many of the firefighters with a Russian key chain bearing the insignia "01," the Moscow version of the 911 emergency phone line.