Volunteer firefighters hit malls to recruit members

Service gets big push at shopping centers and stores in suburbia

Anne Arundel

May 02, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Shoppers looked at the fire trucks parked outside Arundel Mills and passed paramedics and firefighters at the entrance, expecting to see that someone had fainted near the food court. Instead, they found that Anne Arundel County volunteer firefighters had set up a kiosk in the mall, the kind of display where replacement storm windows and garage door openers are sold.

But the firefighters aren't selling a product. They're promoting the volunteer service.

No longer relying on people to seek them out, the volunteers say they are going where the people are in suburbia - the shopping malls, supermarkets and home improvement stores.

"This is where you run into your neighbors," said John Long Jr., a captain at the Earleigh Heights fire station.

The volunteers will use traditional methods in their annual membership drive - the posters at the post offices, the fliers on school bulletin boards, the phone numbers posted on signs outside fire stations. But when the association and ladies auxiliary were planning this year's recruitment kickoff, they decided to start at Arundel Mills.

Over the next month, they plan to hit nearly every major shopping center in the county, including the mall in Annapolis next week. They're also trying to schedule stops at a few home improvement stores and supermarkets.

"Part of goal here is to increase our visibility," said Jackie Olson, president of the Anne Arundel County Volunteer Fire Fighters Association. "We want people to know there is a volunteer fire department in this county."

The volunteer firefighters are also quick to point out that the volunteers save the county millions of dollars every year in labor costs and capital expenses because volunteer companies own many of the county's fire stations and equipment.

A Glen Burnie man walking toward the Arundel Mills parking lot one evening last week was sold on the idea of volunteer fire service, even before the volunteers had finished their sales pitch.

"I'm always looking for ways to give back to the community," said Tarrance Bellamy, 21, a manager at the Hugo Boss outlet.

Bellamy wrote down his name and address as Jack Gouty, chief of the Jessup station, made his pitch. As Gouty talked about the benefits of joining - the tax break, retirement fund, free training and equipment, and the sense of belonging - Bellamy interrupted him and asked, "Do you want my phone number on here, too?" The question left the firefighters smiling.

Olson went home from the mall with the names of six people interested in volunteering. He considered the night a success.

"If we just get one person to volunteer, that's one person we didn't have," she said.

Information: : 410-923-5646.

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