Ten pint-sized pickets took the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Co. to task yesterday for pulling its fire trucks out of the town's annual Fourth of July parade.
"I want the fire trucks to be in the parade. Without them, the parade is only a bunch of politicians, cars and some floats," said Brendan Hopkins, 11, one of 10 children age 5 to 11 who gave up morning cartoons yesterday to picket the station.
But what they saw on Hickory Avenue was quite a show, too.
Irate grown-ups arguing about a Fourth of July parade, a call to a one-alarm fire at a Bel Air apartment house and the debate ultimately reaching a stalemate.
The brouhaha began two weeks ago when the chiefs of all 13 volunteer fire companies in Harford County decided to pull out of the parade, which is easily one of the county's most popular events, with 40,000 to 50,000 spectators annually.
The chiefs were steamed because the Bel Air Independence Day Committee Inc., the volunteer group that organizes the day's activities, told the town fire department to bring only six trucks this year because of complaints that the parade was too long.
Also, the committee said, the fire department could respond faster to an emergency if most equipment remained at the downtown station house.
The other county volunteer fire departments were asked to bring only three trucks.
As many as 50 fire trucks have appeared in the two-hour parade in past years.
Edward Hopkins, 2nd assistant chief and public information officer, said the Bel Air fire department decided to boycott the parade because of concerns over public safety. He said the fire department can respond faster during a busy holiday if all of its equipment is fully staffed and present in the parade. Also, he said, volunteer firefighters deserve the public pat on the back that accompanies their ride down the parade route.
Gail Hopkins, one of the parents on yesterday's picket line, said she did not care how many fire trucks were in the parade as long as there were some.
"It's like going to the circus and no clowns are there," she said.
For about an hour, the children picketed while surprised firefighters watched from inside the station house. Motorists honked their horns and waved.
The children carried signs saying: "kids want fire trucks in the parade," "Mommy, where are the fire trucks?" and "Kids want fire trucks!, fire works!, fun! fun! fun!"
Tony Coliano, board vice president of the Bel Air company, arrived after about an hour and invited the children and parents to come inside the station and talk over their differences.
He told children that the firefighters wanted to be in the parade.
"You are picketing the wrong people," he said. "You should be picketing the parade committee."
Ed Jackson, president of the Bel Air Independence Day Committee, joined the impromptu meeting an hour later after a reporter called and told him about it.
Mr. Jackson said the firefighters hadn't persuaded him.
"I don't believe you," he told firefighter Bob Colaianni, who said public safety dictated that all equipment, fully staffed, be in the parade.
Mr. Colaianni told Mr. Jackson that he didn't understand how the fire department handled emergencies. "You need to join," he told Mr. Jackson.
He also said he didn't believe that an emergency would require 13 pieces of equipment.
"There is a lot of politics going on here," said Karen Budnik, one of a half-dozen parents who organized the picketing. "Is the committee too old to see the parade through the eyes of a little child?"
She said the committee's decision to limit fire equipment may make sense to the committee members but not to the children.
"Sure I get a little bored standing along the parade route for two hours, but the children don't. They stand there and wave their little flags the whole time," she said.
Andrew Kost, 7, said the fire trucks, with their flashing lights and occasional siren screams, are his favorites.
"I want the fire trucks in the parade. I want to see all of them," he said.
The children and parents went home after three hours, vowing to continue protests until at least some fire trucks were returned to the parade.