A family affair with firefighting

May 24, 1991|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Evening Sun Staff

DONALD FOUT SR. remembers hopping streetcars to go to fires with his mother.

Donald Fout Jr. recalls taking buses to see fires with his grandmother.

Margaret Fout loved fires and knew all the firemen at the South Baltimore fire station a couple of blocks from her house. Today, her son and grandson love being firefighters, and they are quick to credit her with kindling their interest in the profession.

"This is something I always wanted to do; I'm sure I got it from my mother," says Donald Fout Sr., 53, a lieutenant with Engine Co. 6 at Old Town Fire Station and a 33-year veteran of the Baltimore Fire Department.

"My grandmother was a big fire buff. We went to some big blazes. I was exposed to it all my life," says Donald Fout Jr., 31, a lieutenant with Engine Co. 46 on Reisterstown Road. He joined the city force 10 years ago and, for a while, worked for his father at the downtown station.

The younger Fout had a few jobs -- "not really any that I enjoyed" -- before becoming a firefighter, and didn't tell his father about his career choice until he had already passed qualifying tests.

Even though Fout considers firefighting "the most dangerous job in the country," he wouldn't have dissuaded his only son. "If he had asked me, I'd have steered him this way," he says.

Family ties bind many area firefighters. "It's definitely a family tradition," says city fire department spokesman Patrick Flynn, whose father and brother were also firefighters.

And the premise of "Backdraft," the movie about Chicago fire-fighting brothers opening today, is not just the stuff of Hollywood imaginations. It is not unusual for brothers to be firefighters, nor for family members to battle the same blazes.

"We fought many fires together," said the older Fout about the 2 1/2 years when he and his son both worked with the Old Town fire company. "It didn't bother us. It bothered my wife."

The three sons of city Battalion Chief Fred Schwartz might also find themselves at the same fire. They are all career firefighters in Baltimore County, though each is assigned to a different station.

Robert Schwartz, 37, is a captain with the Pikesville company; Thomas, 35, is a lieutenant at the Randallstown station, and Edmund, 33, is working as a dispatcher after having just been promoted to lieutenant and looking forward to rejoining the Garrison company next month.

"We've been on calls together," says Edmund, who has been a career firefighter for almost 10 years. For two

years, his brother Robert was his captain. And they all worked together as volunteer firefighters.

"Ever since I can remember, that's all I ever wanted to be, that's all I've ever known," says Edmund Schwartz, who waited "a long time" and took a cut in pay from his carpentry job to become a career firefighter.

Schwartz's father was his inspiration, he says, although "the whole family was always fire department."

"They all fell in love with it. I guess they followed me," says Fred Schwartz, who was lured into firefighting by his brother-in-law nearly 38 years ago. "I was an accountant, but I found out I liked this better. You come in every day, you might save a life or two," he says.

Schwartz's oldest son, Gerald, 39, recently retired from the city fire department "to save souls in Pennsylvania," where he is now a preacher, says his father. Schwartz has two more children, another son and a daughter, who are not firefighters.

The elder Schwartz remembers his youngsters running around in oversized boots, and the sons remember going to the station with their father and hauling

hose in a wheelbarrow to pretend fires.

"Actually, it's not as simple as it sounds," says Robert Schwartz. "I was always proud of him, but I didn't just follow my father." He joined a volunteer fire company, at a neighbor's urging, and "found out I loved it." That was more than 17 years ago.

Robert Schwartz loves the camaraderie, the excitement, the variety, the challenge. "It's you against the elements . . . your wits against nature's force."

Like his father, Schwartz also finds firefighting rewarding. "It's the ability to help someone. There's no feeling to equal that," he says.

"When you go out to help, it's usually somebody who really needs you," says city firefighter Robert Bayne, whose legacy is much different from that of the Schwartz sons. Bayne's father, Joseph Sr., died fighting a fire at the USF&G Building in 1977. The young Bayne was in eighth grade. His father had been a fireman for more than 20 years.

"I wanted to come to the fire department because my father and my uncle were in it," says Bayne, 27. That uncle, Thomas Bayne, now retired from the city fire department, also fought the USF&G fire.

When her son became a firefighter nearly six years ago, "I was very glad he did that," says Bayne's mother, Jean. "I said, 'just please be careful.' "

Jean Bayne works for the fire department too. Since 1982, she has been secretary in its medical bureau, which supervises the city's ambulance service. Her oldest son, Joseph Jr., is a Franciscan priest in Buffalo, N.Y., where he also serves as chaplain to several fire companies, his mother says.

"He was a big fire buff," says Robert Bayne of his brother. "If he wasn't a priest, he would probably have been a fireman." And, in fact, when Father Bayne visits Baltimore, he spends a night or two with his brother at Engine Co. No. 4 on Cold Spring Lane.

Robert Schwartz understands this attraction to firefighting: "For most people who get a taste of it," he says, "it's hard to leave alone."

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