From Firefighting To Food

September 07, 1995|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun Staff Writer

Frank Sullivan has been selling hot dogs from behind his firetruck at Baltimore Washington International airport for only a month, but already he's calling the candy-apple red pumper "a landmark."

He may be using the term loosely, but the 1939 Dodge truck, parked in the airport's observation area off Dorsey Road, certainly attracts attention.

Last month, a pilot flying into BWI caught sight of the fire engine, rented a car and drove around for 30 minutes before he found Fireman Frank's umbrella covered cart and satisfied his hunger.

On another occasion, a woman on a flight from Chicago stopped to buy a hot dog after she saw the truck from her window seat. As she left, the woman promised to tell her friends in Chicago about it.

Two-fifty buys you a Fireman Frank, a steam-cooked hot dog nestled in an 8-inch deli roll and bathed in New York chili. For a buck more, you can get a Two-Alarmer -- a double dose of Fireman Frank.

Mr. Sullivan said his business, which opened last month, was born of need. The recreational pilot said he often pulled off Dorsey Road to the makeshift observation area and joined others watching planes pass right over their heads.

"The one thing it was missing was refreshment," Mr. Sullivan said. "If you wanted to eat something, you had to go out onto Dorsey Road up to McDonald's or Burger King. And in the interim, you might miss the chance to see what you came to see."

When the state announced plans last year to make the gawkers' gallery permanent -- with a paved parking lot and playground -- Mr. Sullivan approached BWI officials with the idea of his concession stand. Although initially dubious, state officials approved the request after seeing the antique truck, which saw action on the Eastern Shore for the first half of its 56 years.

The county health department signed off on the proposal in May, said Mr. Sullivan.

BWI spokeswoman Linda Greene said state officials realized the airport's viewing area wasn't complete without a food stand.

"It's certainly appealing to have food service available while people are watching the airplanes fly by," she said. "It's just a win-win situation."

The truck's conversion from firefighter to hot dog stand began in 1972, when the Salem Fire Company sold the pumper to the National Brewing Co. in Baltimore.

The truck was used as a promotional gimmick for 20 years before it was sold to Mr. Sullivan, a former brewery supervisor, in 1992.

The pumper, which has undergone painting, repairs and detailing worth more than $5,000, has a little more than 13,600 miles on it, said Mr. Sullivan, who drives it the three miles from his Glen Burnie home to the observation area.

"It's like driving a 31,000-pound motorcycle," he said of the open cab. "It's like you're sitting right on the road."

Dennis Knickman, Mr. Sullivan's lone employee and a friend, predicted business would increase after construction crews finish a playground and a bike path behind the observation area. And they might expand hours beyond the 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. lunch rush.

"With the playground, it's going to be an all-time thing," said Mr. Knickman, 42, a truck driver for Roadway Express. "They can watch planes, sit on the playground, [and] eat and drink something."

Mr. Sullivan will give 5 percent of the stand's proceeds to Anne Arundel County volunteer fire companies.

John Edwards, 45, a service manager for a lawn-cutting company in Odenton, said he visits the stand at least three times a week.

"I look for it," Mr. Edwards said as he bought two regular hot dogs with relish and a soda. "If I don't see red here, I drive by. I've got to have the firetruck here to eat."

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