For county firefighters Richard Meise and Keith Hamilton, it's been a busy day at the red-brick firehouse on Broadview Boulevard.
In the first five hours of their 24-hour shift at Ferndale Volunteer Fire Department, they have answered five ambulance calls -- a fractured ankle, an allergic reaction to medication, someone with dizziness, car accident victims.
Because most of the volunteer firefighters work other jobs, many of the calls, especially during the day, are handled by paid county firefighters assigned to Engine Company 34. And Meise and Hamilton were the only ones on duty last Thursday.
"We run our wheels off," said Meise, who was a volunteer at the Riviera Beach station before becoming a paid firefighter 19 years ago.
But the paid firefighters get a break on weekends, he said.
"The volunteers pick up the ball and run with it," he said, as he grabbed a bite to eat between calls.
Before he could utter another word, another ambulance call came in. No sooner had he and Hamilton returned than another call came: a single-alarm fire at a building in Brooklyn.
"They've got it all," said Ed Wilson, a bespectacled, silver-haired former volunteer who is sort of the keeper of the firehouse while the firefighters are out on calls.
Wilson, 74, a retired electrician who chain-smokes, went on plenty of calls in his younger days, but now he answers the phones, greets visitors and keeps the coffee pot full. It helps fuel the firefighters at the station, which operates the second-busiest ambulance in the county.
Last year, Engine Company 34 handled 2,654 calls for ambulance service from Glen Burnie to Brooklyn and about 1,000 fire calls. Most were for help outside Ferndale.
The station was built in 1943 by volunteers who used a converted Cloverland milk truck for their first fire engine to protect their growing community. Now, the firehouse is used regularly for community meetings and banquets.
The department operates with 82 volunteer members and is assigned 12 county-paid firefighters, who work in two-person shifts. The volunteers range in age from 16 to 76, though the older ones don't go out on calls -- they provide guidance to the younger ones.
Volunteer Lt. Craig Bidinger, 28, is treasurer of the station. He has been a volunteer for nine years and works as a paramedic in Baltimore County.
A boyhood fascination with fire engines and firefighters prompted him to join, he said.
"I grew up in the community and always wanted to do it. It's a way of giving back to the community. It's enjoyable."
By late afternoon, Meise and Hamilton have returned from the fire call, which turned out to be a false alarm. They are hoping for a break, a moment of peace, because their shift won't end until 7 a.m. Friday.
Pub Date: 1/19/97