Gamber Fire Company bans smoking at events

February 22, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

At Gamber and Community Fire Hall, smoke no longer gets in your eyes, lungs and clothes.

Last year, members voted nearly unanimously to make their company the first in the county to implement a no-smoking policy for all events.

"I thought there would be more of a fight," said Charlie Sanders, a longtime member of the volunteer company. "We had a five-minute discussion and that was it."

The smoke-free policy extends to hall rentals to both nonprofit organizations and private parties.

All tobacco products are banned from all events at the fire hall.

"The membership voted as a direct result of the Surgeon General's report that second-hand smoke is deadly," said Edward J. Kreczmer, fire company president.

Mr. Sanders has no regrets as he recalls the smoky evenings when he worked at weekly bingo.

By the end of the night, Mr. Sanders said, he couldn't see across the room. A blue haze made reading the ball difficult for the caller.

"I used to undress in the laundry room as soon as I got home," Mr. Sanders said. "I couldn't stand the way my clothes smelled."

Several young volunteers who also work at the bingo games every week worried about secondary smoke.

"Smoke hurts other people's lungs," said T. J. Overholtzer, 12.

Guy Garheart, 12, who often went home hacking, said, "People come here to play, not to breath smoke."

Members gave everyone a month's notice before the new policy took effect. New curtains and paint removed the last vestiges of smoke from the hall.

Mr. Sanders said Gamber might be on the cutting edge of a trend.

"It's the greatest thing that ever happened," he said. "I don't know if it's fair to smokers, but it sure makes for a better atmosphere."

Now, instead of puffing on cigarettes while she marks her cards, Betty Hetrick chews licorice.

A moderate to heavy smoker, she hangs on until intermission and dashes outside for a smoke.

"If I wasn't with this company for 13 years and if I didn't like playing with all my friends, I might not play here," Ms. Hetrick said. "I am with the die-hards who go outside at intermission."

For smokers, it's outside in all kinds of weather or into the engine room with its own set of fumes.

Although they complain, smokers continue to play.

The ban has helped Herb Marquess of Owings Mills cut down.

"I can't smoke at work so I am working toward quitting," he said.

Mr. Kreczmer, the caller for Tuesday night bingo, noticed a change in the air immediately.

"The change has been so dramatic, from a cloudy to a sunny day," he said.

Members did worry about losing smokers and revenue from events.

"Some people were upset and were out the door saying they would never come back," Mr. Kreczmer said.

Although he points to recent sell-outs -- a crab feast and two holiday events -- bingo is not quite back to its pre-smokeless attendance.

But bad weather and rerouted traffic from a bridge closed for nearly eight months have made it difficult to assess the policy's impact on revenues, he said.

About 160 patrons a night usually translated to $500 and about $30,000 a year, he said.

Attendance dropped to 120. Mr. Kreczmer attributed some of that decline to patrons having difficulty on back roads.

The bridge reopened just as the weather turned treacherous for motorists.

Last week, despite ice and rain, 127 patrons filled the hall, which can hold about 300 people.

"Bingo pays a lot of the bills," he said. "It's hard to say yet what the impact is. By summer, we should have the revenues and people back."

Mr. Kreczmer would like to see all fire halls in the county follow Gamber's lead.

"Fire companies are leaders in social activities in this community," he said. "For the welfare of the community, they should all consider this."

Although several companies have tried separating smokers and nonsmokers, Gamber remains alone in banning smoking entirely.

"We are in the emergency medical business," said Mr. Kreczmer. "We see a lot of people with lung problems and trouble breathing."

He is a reformed smoker, who quit 10 years ago as a 40th birthday present to himself and his family.

"If I could quit, anybody can," he said. "The day has come to cut down on the right to pollute the air."

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