Relics enliven Firehouse Muster Firefighting relics, instruction draw 6,000 to exposition. SPRAYER MEETING

July 29, 1991|By Elisha King | Elisha King,Evening Sun Staff

The relics on display were from firefighting days gone by -- before $400,000 fire trucks, sophisticated rescue gear and seminars on how to identify toxic chemicals and avoid AIDS infection.

The tin fire extinguishers from the early 1900s, belt buckles from old firemen's uniforms and antique fire hats were sold yesterday in Festival Hall at the flea market of firefighter memorabilia, one of the events of the eighth annual Great American Firehouse Exposition and Muster.

Shirley Sills, director of the annual expo, said Firehouse Magazine organizes it to bring firefighters together so they can learn from each other, learn about new fire safety equipment and enjoy themselves.

The four-day exposition, held in Baltimore for the sixth time in eight years, opened Thursday. The event was attended by more than 7,500 volunteer firefighters, paramedics, fire buffs and their families from 20 states, including Maryland.

The relics and the old-fashioned firefighting contests, such as bucket brigade and midnight alarm, provided lighter entertainment for modern firefighters who also attended informational seminars on subjects such as hazardous material identification and burn safety, Sills said.

"I've always liked antiques, and I've been a volunteer firefighter for 34 years, so becoming a collector of these items was a natural choice for me," said Ralph Jennings, pointing at antiques in his display.

Jennings, whose own collection grew so large that he had to move it out of his Pennsylvania home and into a two-story building, said his oldest item is a unique 1829 speaking trumpet made of silver.

"Around that time, the volunteer fire companies were very inventive. They made things themselves," Jennings said. "So with the early pieces, you see one, you're not going to see another one like it."

Modern firefighters often admire the gold and silver badges once used to reward firemen's good service and the solid gold buttons once worn on firemen's coats, said Jennings, who acquires the items at antique shows and yard sales.

But, judging from the stares that a young woman across the room received from passers-by, modern firefighters are interested in more than antiques.

Lisa McConnell, a firefighter from Pleasant Hills, Pa., said the calendar that features her and several other women wearing lingerie and posing in fire-rescue scenes sold like hot cakes at the expo.

"Take the Heat 1992" is the fourth calendar published by the Pleasant Hills Volunteer Fire Company, whose members used the profits to purchase a new $400,000 rescue pumper truck last year.

Although the calendars have provided thousands of dollars for equipment, some Pleasant Hills residents continue to protest the exploitation of "scantily clad women," said firefighter Eric Bodrock.

The controversy, chronicled in People magazine and the Wall Street Journal and on the TV show "Inside Edition," only helped sales, said McConnell as she signed autographs.

"I bought one because they're unique to firefighters," said Jim Raskin, who came with a fire company from Ohio. "And, of course I like the girls. It's not all that fun to sit in the firehouse waiting for a call, but I'll put this on the wall, and it'll make it more fun for everyone."

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