Firefighter named grand marshal

June 13, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Samuel Merson has firefighting in his blood. At the age of 15, he joined his father and two older brothers at the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department, where he often raced to emergency calls on his bicycle.

Eventually, more of Mr. Merson's family took up the calling, including three other brothers, Mr. Merson's four children and assorted other relatives.

"We have a long legacy," Mr. Merson said.

And, starting tonight, the 65-year-old volunteer firefighter and Sunday school teacher will preside over the seventh annual Elkridge Days Carnival and Parade as grand marshal.

The carnival takes place at the former Elkridge Drive-In near Bonnie View Lane. Carnival hours will be 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. today through Thursday, and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Because the Elkridge Fire Department already had a previous engagement this week, the parade will be held Saturday.

A three-member committee from the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department picked Mr. Merson as grand marshal because of his history with the Fire Department and his involvement at Melville Chapel United Methodist Church, where he has taught Sunday school for 40 years.

"We try to pick somebody the community knows and recognizes," said Deputy Chief Donald Watson, who served on the committee. "There's quite a lot he's done. When you need him, he's there."

When Mr. Merson began fighting fires in 1944, the department had just received its first engine, a converted 1934 Brockway truck dubbed "Daisy," which members had worked on at the home of Chief Kyle Lenahan.

Before he joined the department, the young Mr. Merson would stop by to inspect the firefighters' work as he delivered the News American to nearby homes.

In his time with the department, Mr. Merson observed many changes in firefighting equipment. When he was a boy, for example, "Daisy" did not have a windshield or a radio.

Firefighters depended on neighbors to phone in reports from the fire scene, or on the state police, who would use their radios to call the state police barracks, he recalled. Police dispatchers, in turn, called the fire station for additional help.

"Things were pretty primitive back then," said Mr. Merson, who used to don a sheepskin-lined coat to protect him from the heat of the flames.

One of the most memorable fires Mr. Merson helped extinguish was a blaze that consumed a wooden wheelbarrow factory on Levering Avenue during the late 1950s. "We had the first engine in, and I was driving," Mr. Merson said.

He was not afraid at such times, he said. "You just go ahead and do it. And we always go in twos."

One of the most frequent fire hazards came from steam locomotives, which spewed sparks from their smokestacks, starting wildfires around the tracks. At one point, Mr. Merson and other firefighters found themselves simultaneously battling six or seven wildfires.

By the time he reached his 20s, Mr. Merson was one of the main drivers for the Elkridge Fire Department. He retired from the department in 1969 and was named a lifelong member.

His children continue the family tradition. One son is a firefighter at the Elkridge Fire Department, and another is a paramedic for Howard County Fire and Rescue Services. His two daughters are married to firefighters.

Mr. Merson also is active in the Melville Chapel United Methodist Church in Elkridge. In addition to teaching Sunday school, he is chairman of the administrative board and chairman of the trustees board.

Although nostalgic about his youthful firefighting, Mr. Merson is impressed with the way the department has kept up with the times. "There's been a lot of changes, and most of them have been good," he said.

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