No more pancake breakfasts

Arundel County: Decline in volunteer firefighters no threat, but appetites get no satisfaction.

June 13, 2000

COUNTY executive Janet S. Owens buried her head in her hands as she spoke. She lamented that volunteer firefighters were becoming a thing of the past in the county's rural south.

This was several months ago, and things haven't improved.

The old guard of volunteers has no one to whom to pass the baton -- or the fire hose. Newcomers to South County don't need the firehouse for social life, and riding fire engines doesn't thrill them.

No need for alarm, however. The dwindling number of volunteers simply represents a change of lifestyle. The recent waves of residents are largely Washingtonians who are accustomed to paid firefighters. They expect rescue workers to answer 911 calls because they pay taxes for the service.

Ms. Owens doesn't have to worry that South County residents are at an increased risk. Paid firefighters have picked up the slack in the county's most sparsely populated section. Response times in South County are only about one minute slower than times elsewhere in Anne Arundel, even though firefighters must cover substantially greater distances to reach emergencies.

South County stations now average 12 volunteers; northern and central Anne Arundel stations average 37 volunteers.

Although the populace is safe, it may be hungrier. Things were blissful when the Riva Volunteer Fire Department had 50 certified firefighters and firehouse pancake breakfasts were as dependable as the sunrise. Now Riva has just two certified volunteers, hardly enough to flip a decent stack.

The firehouse was a family social center in other ways, too. But that part of Arundel living, like other things, soon may be history. South County already has lost tobacco and other crops to residential development. Watermen are watching the demise of their industry. Soon an imposing Safeway supermarket may replace mom-and-pop stores in Deale.

Life is still good for many in South County; it's just changing.

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