Fire Museum's volunteer crew Workers: Volunteers, known as the "Tuesday Night Crew," keep the Lutherville museum in shape. They recently helped get it ready for Fire Prevention Month.

October 20, 1997|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

Steve Heaver and Ed Rosen manhandled an unwieldy, 400-pound iron contraption into position -- the hose bed of a 1920 Seagrave fire engine being restored at the Fire Museum of Maryland.

Elsewhere in the hangarlike building, John D. LaCosta was installing a jumper circuit on the old telephone fire alarm system, a type in use from the late 19th century until the 911 system was implemented in 1968 to cover all emergency services.

Such work has been taking place on Tuesday evenings in the Lutherville museum since its founding in 1971. Dedicated volunteers gather to tune engines, polish brass, dust the apparatus, move exhibits and perform the myriad other tasks that help to keep the museum running smoothly.

When the museum on York Road opened this month to launch the annual observance of Fire Prevention Month, it was largely the work of the "Tuesday Night Crew" that made it possible.

"If it wasn't for the dusting and polishing by these guys, it wouldn't look as good for the public," said Debbie Brown, the museum's interim director -- and part-time tour guide.

Their only rewards are an annual appreciation dinner and the fun of playing with fire engines -- including the opportunity to ride them in area parades.

The museum has 42 pieces of equipment on display, ranging from an 1806 Pat Day hand-drawn pumper to a 1957 Seagrave fire engine. Another dozen pieces in storage are being restored, Brown said.

Most volunteers share a love of things mechanical, and the museum offers an opportunity to work with such equipment.

LaCosta, 48, who revels in his title as superintendent of fire alarms, is a computer programmer for AAI Corp. in Cockeysville. "I love working on old telephone and telegraph equipment and the fire alarm system. It's all old stuff that takes a lot of tender loving care," said LaCosta, a volunteer since 1972.

On weekends, LaCosta drives a steam locomotive for the Wilmington & Western Railroad in Delaware and, among many other activities, he is vice president for operations of the Baltimore Streetcar Museum.

"I just like mechanical things," he said as he tried to figure out why the fire alarm system was not properly striking out 5-5-5 -- the box at Baltimore's Light and Redwood streets in the old days.

Meanwhile, in the back-room workshop, Heaver and Rosen were pulling a rack of old clothing and boards off the Seagrave hose bed. The once-red paint and varnish finish has rusted off most of the heavy piece.

Heaver's father -- Stephen G. Heaver, a developer who founded the museum to house his collection of fire apparatus -- bought the Seagrave fire engine in 1966 and it has been under restoration periodically ever since.

The younger Heaver's helper, Rosen, 40, of Randallstown, is an electronics technician for the Social Security Administration. Most evenings -- except for Tuesdays -- he's also a paramedic at the Liberty Road Volunteer Fire Company.

Rosen, like LaCosta, acknowledges a fascination with steam power. "Steam has a lot of power and not much noise; if you keep putting in water and fuel, it can go indefinitely," he said.

"I just like machinery, and just playing with the steam engines is fun -- and we get to ride on them in parades," Rosen said.

The museum has three paid employees and 28 volunteers who handle tasks ranging from tours to clerical work.

"We can use a lot more volunteers," said the younger Heaver, president of the museum. "There are more and more demands on people's time these days and fewer and fewer volunteers. This puts a bigger load on paid staff."

The museum offers tours from Monday to Friday from April to November, and last year 89 schools sent classes to the museum -- many in October for Fire Prevention Month, Brown said.

Gene Reid, 69, a retired Koppers Co. executive from Towson, has been a guide since 1992. "We hit hard on fire safety," said Reid, as he looked over the ambitious schedule arranged for this month.

"I really enjoy it. We do lots of kindergarten classes, and the kids love it, especially the bells, whistles and sirens. We show the older kids a movie we made about the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. We do a lot of tours for senior citizens, too," Reid said.

Pub Date: 10/20/97

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