Firefighters travel by rail to honor fallen comrades

This Just In...

October 19, 2001

LIFE - AND THE mourning - goes on. Fifteen Baltimore County firefighters will catch an early Amtrak to New York City today, then switch to the Long Island Rail Road for the trip to St. Anthony's Church in Oceanside and the funeral of Thomas Gardner.

Kenneth Marino's funeral was in the same church Tuesday, and about 20 Baltimore County firefighters stood at attention for that one.

The same day, another group went to two funerals on Staten Island - one for Steven Olson, one for Daniel Libretti.

Seventy Baltimore County firefighters went to David Fontana's funeral in Brooklyn on Wednesday.

Six of them, the department's honor guard, went to Assistant Chief Donald Burns' funeral last week in St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Ten will attend tomorrow's service in Queens for Michael Mullan.

Fifty will go up Monday for Joseph Angelini's in Lindenhurst, Long Island.

There will be two more large contingents for double funerals in St. Patrick's on Nov. 5 - David Arce and Michael Boyle - and Nov. 9 - Capt. Patrick Brown and Lt. Vincent Halloran.

"It's kind of overwhelming," says Mike Rehfeld, who, with fellow county firefighter John Millby, coordinates these trips to honor firefighters killed in New York City on 9-11. "The best part, for me, has been visiting the stations of these guys, stopping in to talk to them at stations in Manhattan, on the same day of the funerals. That was very important."

At Rehfeld's prodding the firefighters union established a system for keeping track of New York funerals and making sure at least some Baltimore County firefighters attend them. Rehfeld has had no problem finding comrades willing to go. Most of them have been taking the train to Manhattan, riding free on Amtrak, the New York City subway and the LIRR.

"It's all volunteer," Rehfeld says. "The guys go when they're not on shift, on their own time. ... We're committed through Nov. 9."

And doubtless more funerals after that.

A comforting con

In the midst of anthrax scares and the war against bin Laden, life goes on. Here on the ground, on the sidewalks of the city they call Baltimore, we find the entrepreneurial spirit alive and well. We find men and women at work. We find men stealing office furniture. How crazy is this new world that I find odd serenity in knowing that thieves have gone back to their scheming ways?

The tale begins with Herman Miller. Herman Miller could be the name of a bar owner in South Baltimore. But Herman Miller is actually a big name in high-end office furniture. This I did not know - forgive me, office furniture connoisseurs - until I heard from a woman who sits on Herman Miller furniture in a staffing agency on Lombard Street here in Charm City.

At least she did until a couple of weeks ago.

Until a couple of weeks ago she had Herman Miller chairs - the popular Aeron model, with its award-winning ergonomics and special mesh fabric that supposedly increases worker productivity.

"It's a hot chair," says Tammy Heyman, who works in sales at American Office Furniture Co. in downtown B-town. "They're very cool-looking. You see them now in movies and on television. It's what Peter Jennings sits in."

An Aeron retails for about $1,200, she says.

The staffing agency on Lombard Street inherited some of the chairs from another company that occupied its space until last year.

Kathleen - she asked me not to use her full name because she's a little embarrassed by what happened - knew the chairs were special, but not so special that they required annual servicing.

Still, it didn't seem odd that a guy called to set up a servicing visit, "as per the warranty."

"What did seem weird is that the guy was very anxious to get out here," Kathleen tells me. "I agreed he could come out to service our 15 chairs understanding that each chair only took about 10 minutes or so to service.

"Later that day, I was interviewing a candidate. I watched from the corner of my eye as a man came in with a baseball cap and a can of WD-40. He spoke to my co-worker briefly.

"We don't want to service them in the office," the man said. "It would stink too bad."

Then he rolled three of the huge high-back chairs into the lobby and, from there, to a loading dock.

"A security guard, who was in the midst of changing shifts, held the door open for him," Kathleen says.

Had this fellow been a legitimate chair-servicing guy, he likely would have been an employee of American Office, the "servicing dealer for the Baltimore trading region," says Heyman. And he would have worn a uniform shirt saying so.

But Kathleen can't remember a uniform. She just remembers the can of WD-40.

Two hours went by before Kathleen noticed something.

She noticed that her chairs had not returned from their "servicing." She didn't even sense the smell of WD-40 in the air.

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