A number of years ago in Harford County, Maryland, I had the occasion to defend a client accused of a double manslaughter resulting from a drunk driving accident. In preparing for the trial I learned that there is no paid fire department in Harford County. Preparing to interview the fire and medical personnel that treated the victims and my client, I had the image of a Keystone Cops atmosphere. To my surprise, I found the volunteer men and women who make up the Harford County Emergency Services to be well trained, highly motivated and dedicated.
A few years later, having moved to Harford County, Maryland, I received a solicitation from the Fallston Volunteer Fire Department seeking members. Having given up sky diving and hang gliding, and looking for adventure, I decided to volunteer. With my 18 year old stepson, we joined the Fire Company. For some reason, I suspected that training for a 41 year old volunteer would be less demanding than a 21 year old paid firefighter. I was wrong. The training was intense and long. I was told that a fire cannot distinguish between a paid firefighter and a volunteer. All firefighters in Maryland receive the same training for the same certifications.
One of the requirements of the course was to demonstrate that I could find my way out of a smoke filled building, using only the laid fire hose as a point of reference. Fire hoses are made up of 50 foot sections. The male connection points toward the nozzle and the female connection to the fire engine. Therefore, by feeling the hose connections you can tell the direction of the hose, that is, toward the inside of the building (nozzle) or outside (fire engine). To accomplish this exercise, I was given full protective clothing and an air tank with 8 minutes of air, blind folded and placed in a building with hundreds of feet of fire hose tangled throughout. After three minutes of following hose, the low air bell alarm on my tank began to sound. I could not remember whether it was male in or male out. The instructor was yelling at me at the top of his voice to either get out of the building or die. I said to myself, “I'm a successful lawyer, why am I doing this?"
Well the reason I was doing this became evident the first time I was in a burning building. The real thing was exactly as the simulations I had been subjected to. I felt qualified and exhilarated.
I have been in the fire service now for twenty years. Receiving my certifications, responding to many fires, auto accidents, and medical emergencies.
I have not been idle on the administrative side of the fire department. I am the Past President of the Fallston Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Company, (the same company that I thought to be Keystone Cops) and past Vice President of the Harford County Firemen's Association, the governing body of Fire Companies in Harford County.
The next time you hear the siren and bell of a volunteer fire engine, be assured that the firemen on board are fully trained and eager to help in any type of emergency.
Steven J. Scheinin
Attorney at Law
305 W. Chesapeake Avenue
Towson, Maryland 21204