Lifetime of firefighting in Mount Airy is recognized Baker is cited by state group SOUTHWEST--Mount Airy * Woodbine * Taylorsville * Winfield

July 09, 1993|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Contributing Writer

Oscar Baker, 72, was far more interested in showing off the Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Department's new building -- which he described as "the most modern, functional, state-of-the-art firehouse in the state" -- than in talking about his 52-year career as a firefighter.

He was not about to mention receiving the Marbury F. Gates Award, an honor presented annually by the Maryland State Fireman's Association.

"When we built this station we tried to think and plan ahead for the next century," he said of the $1.8 million facility.

"Take a look at this view." He pointed to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains from a back patio where firefighters can relax between calls.

Luxurious accommodations were unknown when the Mount Airy native joined the fire department in July 1941.

"In those days, fire companies were the nerve centers of communities and life revolved around them," recalled Mr. Baker. "That's why I got involved. I wanted to help out."

His firefighting career was interrupted in 1943 when he joined the Army and served with the 11th Armored Division. His division was part of Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army's historic advance across Europe to the Rhine River.

"I was wounded in the legs with shrapnel at the Battle of the Bulge," he said.

"As I was going up the gangplank of a hospital ship in England in May of 1945, I heard the news that Germany surrendered. It was a momentous moment."

He returned home to Mount Airy, resumed his career with the fire department and got married in 1946 to Edith, a native of Damascus.

In 1951 he began his professional firefighting career with the federal government at the Naval Ordinance Laboratory in Washington. In 1957 he became the fire inspector for Walter Reed Hospital, then moved to the National Bureau of Standards in 1964, where he established the fire department and became chief fire inspector. He retired in 1979.

The Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Co. was founded in 1926 after the town suffered three devastating fires in 1903, 1914 and 1925.

"When I started we had three engines," he said, "and on cold nights it was some ride on the American LaFrance pumper, which was the first engine purchased for $8,325 when the department was founded in 1926, big money in them days," he says with a laugh.

The engine was restored some years ago by the junior auxiliary and, while it is no longer on the active roster, participates in parades and other functions.

In the days before other departments were established, it was common for Mount Airy firefighters to cover 100 square miles of country from Ellicott City to Gaithersburg, he said.

"My first year we had 26 calls. Today we have 50 a month plus a monthly average of 100 calls for the ambulance," he said.

To honor his long service as a fireman, he was nominated this year by his peers for the Marbury F. Gates Award. It remembers the 70-year service of the Rockville firefighter of that name.

The letter nominating him lists his contributions and fills almost two single-spaced pages.

"He exemplifies the best the fire service has to offer," the letter stated.

The award, donated by the Rockville Fire Department, was presented to him at the association's annual convention in Ocean City in June.

Mr. Baker has served on every committee imaginable and continues to serve on the fund-raising committee for the firehouse. He has been an active member of the Carroll County Firemen's Association and was its president in 1965 and in 1991-1992. He was inducted into the Maryland State Fireman's Association Hall of Fame in 1984. The list goes on.

Mr. Baker's favorite story is about his first ambulance call, in 1953.

"I was driving the ambulance with the chief to an accident call on Route 40 near Lisbon. I didn't realize it, but there was gas and oil all over the road, and when I hit the brakes the ambulance skidded for half a mile," he said.

"I had to back up to the scene to get the victim."

Today, he's looking forward to the department's annual carnival, held every year since 1925 during the last full week of July.

"I ran the funnel cake concession at the fair for 15 years and finally have been able to pawn it off on another member this year," he said. "But I'll be there helping a little bit, you know, offering a few tips."

His three sons do not share his passion for firefighting, but he is thrilled that his 8-year-old grandson, Carson, does.

"I think he may be a firefighter someday. He's always asking me to take him to the firehouse."

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