The bright-red 2010 Rosenbauer Pumper was so new that it didn't even have fire hoses attached. Delivered just last week, the $600,000 fire engine sat in a bay at Station 6 in Dundalk, waiting to be accessorized.
It never got a chance to respond to a fire.
Instead, the Rosenbauer and other vehicles - including a National Guard Humvee and two ambulances - were damaged, possibly beyond repair, when the firehouse on Sollers Point Road burned and the roof collapsed early Wednesday.
Now, firefighters are operating out of a temporary fire station at Sollers Point Technical High School, residents are worried about the crew they considered neighbors, and David W. Wolfe is in mourning. On Wednesday, he stood in the blowing snow, holding an umbrella and staring into the front bay of what remained of Station 6.
He quickly scanned the headlights of the Humvee - the only part visible under a mound of debris - and the charred remains of an ambulance. He focused on the Rosenbauer Pumper, and the only words the purchasing supervisor for the Baltimore County budget office could muster were: "I purchased that."
Wolfe spends most of his days in an office cubicle, lost in a world foreign to the men and women he serves. Here is a sample of what Wolfe buys for county offices: "Tyler Special Operations Platform" and a "Mobile Vehicle Lifting System." He doesn't often find himself at a fire scene as firefighters pick through the debris.
Wolfe spent two years negotiating the bureaucratic procurement and bidding maze required of such large purchases, he said. The damaged pumper was one of nine engines recently bought by the county, custom-made and capable of spraying 1,500 gallons a minute.
When the new engine arrived, neighbors had watched and commented as a driver carefully backed it into its space.
"It was brand-spanking-new," Wolfe said at the fire scene, shaking his head. It had just been christened Engine 6, the primary truck at the station.
The squat red-brick station, across from Dundalk Middle School and large enough to house six large trucks, has been an integral part of the Dundalk community for decades. Residents think of the firefighters as their neighbors, and often see them grabbing coffee at the 7-Eleven across the street.
Wednesday's fire was just one part of a sad story.
In 1984, three firefighters from Station 6 died fighting a fire at Shiller's Furniture and Appliance store on Holabird Avenue. Firefighter Thomas Kimbel Jr., the nephew of one of the men killed 26 years ago, was in the station when Wednesday's fire broke out and helped drive Engine 61 outside and train water on the blaze.
Kyrle Preis, a spokesman for the Baltimore County Fire Department, said the sleeping firefighters had awakened to a blaring fire alarm and discovered fire in the engine bay.
The building's occupants - eight firefighters on duty, five firefighters from the day shift who stayed because of the blizzard, and two members of the National Guard - escaped without injury.
People who live along Sollers Point Road and Merritt Boulevard said they were shaken awake by a series of explosions shortly after 2:30 in the morning. Deborah Petticord had been sleeping on her couch when she heard the booms.
"Every couple of minutes, you'd hear a big bang," said Petticord, who has lived across the street from the station for 15 years. "Then you'd see white smoke, and then the smoke would turn black and there would be another bang. It was terrible."
Oxygen tanks in ambulances exploded. Residents said they grabbed shovels and rushed to help dig out a buried fire hydrant, but it didn't work anyway.
Commanders ordered that the fire be fought from the outside, which is typically done when the building is considered a loss. More than 50 firefighters battled the blaze for two hours before bringing it under control.
The roof collapsed about 4:30 a.m., burying two fire engines, two ambulances, a brush truck and the Humvee. Hours later, a worker in a backhoe fought swirling snow and wind gusts to remove pieces of the fallen roof.
Damage is estimated in the millions of dollars; each ambulance cost $210,000.
One engine, the old No. 6, was towed out. Though dented and dirty, it was operational.
Preis said investigators have not determined the fire's cause, but it was not believed to have been related to the snowstorm.
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