Mersons see fighting fires as family affair Many relatives have fought blazes ELLICOTT CITY/ELKRIDGE

October 12, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

The sound of Elkridge fire station's siren carries into Jack Merson's home, just across the street and a couple of houses down on Old Washington Boulevard. Cherry-red trucks rumble by, lights flickering and sirens blaring, men in yellow turnout jackets swinging from the back.

Volunteer firefighter Jack Merson, 70, doesn't go out on calls anymore, but at one time, he and all five of his brothers -- Don, Sam, Tom, William and Oliver -- would have sprinted out of their parent's home, ruining many a good supper. They'd be one of the first to arrive at the station, ready to battle blazes and save lives.

For the Mersons, firefighting is a family affair, already spanning three generations. Close to 30 Mersons, including kin and womenfolk, either work or volunteer as firefighters or emergency medical personnel in Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. Wives are active in the women's auxiliary, helping raise money and support the station.

All of them started at the Elkridge station, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

"You're helping people," Jack Merson said. "That's the whole idea. We just like to help people without a monetary thought in mind."

Although the Mersons aren't the only family involved in firefighting, they are one of the biggest -- if not the biggest -- in the county. Other families that have a long history with the fire department include the Shillings and the O'Neills in Elkridge, the Klines in Ellicott City and the Wines and the Fosters in Savage.

"If I were to take the presidential theme and put it to firefighting, the word family values come to mind," said Chief Darl McBride, the county fire department director. "It's a family value, and it carries on.

"It's passed on from generation to generation," he said. "It's the love of giving service to the community. Once it starts, it rolls over."

Serving their community and helping people attracted the Mersons to firefighting.

"It was such a positive thing to do for the community," said Robin Watson, daughter of Don and Doris Merson. "My dad and that generation started after the war because they could help. The generation after that took over."

Mrs. Watson works for the county fire department's communications division. Her husband, Donald Watson, is a deputy chief at Elkridge. My family "generated such excitement about it that he got excited about it," she said.

Their 6-year-old son also wants to become a firefighter, she said. "He's expressed such an interest in it right now."

The service his father and uncles gave to the community drew county fire inspector Daniel Merson into the career. "Seeing what they did was a big part," he said. "There was a lot of pride, and I wanted to be a part of that."

"It's good for them to keep up the tradition," said Sam Merson, Daniel's father. "It takes a lot more time now with all the training they have to do. I'm real glad they want to continue the service to the community. It's in our blood."

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