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Firehouse Expo Report '99 by Michael J. Legeros
"They came from a far." - joke Think a trade show for fire-people. That's what the 16th Annual Firehouse Emergency Services Expo, held last week, was like. Our 800-mile, 84-hour sojourn started on Friday, when we set a course for Baltimore, site of the show, by way of Richmond, residence of Sweetie's sister and brother-in-law. After lunch, roaming (read: finding firehouses), din-din, and Dairy Queen, Friday night found us on a shadier side of town (Hull Street) where the flashing red and blue lights of the Richmond Police Department's Mobile Command Post caught our attention. Soon we were inside, taking an elev- enth-hour tour after my camera's flashbulb caught the attention of the friendly polizei. (No major incident was in progress; just a standard pre-Saturday "shake-up.") Dawn came early and by, say, seven-thirty we were up and at 'em and en route to the third and final day that the Expo exhibits were open. (As a former full- time firefighter and lifelong fire buff, a single day on the show floor was all I expected to need.) We arrived around 11 at the Camden Yards-located Convention Center, at a metered parking lot already beginning to brim with red cars and small red trucks. (Most were equipped with lights and light bars, be they department vehicles or privately owned.) Inside, the exhibit floor looked like any other trade show, with the addition of a double-dozen fire and emergency vehicles parked hither and dither. There were pumpers and ladders and ambulances and rescue squads. Most were bare, baring open compartments sans such standard accoutrements as axes, hoses, and ladders. Metz, a German apparatus manufacturer, had hung an SUV (!) from the tip of an aerial ladder to prove its weight-bearing worthiness. Needless to say, not too many people were walking underneath. Nor were too many folks to be found under a lift-mounted lime-green Pierce Quantum pumper raised seven-over-so feet in the air. (I had my picture taken, of course, displaying my non-existent superhuman strength.) Best of all, nearly all of the vehicles were free for the touching. A steady stream of firefighters-- and often their children-- moved from truck to truck, climbing into cabs, onto tailboards, and in the case of a gigantic heavy-rescue truck, onto the roof. In addition to the apparatus-- which included a yellow lifeguard unit lettered for "Baywatch"-- there was emergency equipment a- plenty. Coats, hats, helmets, hose, nozzles, axes, saws, Hurst tools, jump kits, spot lights, flood lights, pike poles, traffic signaling devices, and even a Batmobile-like Automatic Tire-Chain Deployer for use on icy roads. (Equally cool was a collapsible plastic ground ladder.) Memorabilia was also on display, most of it for sale. Same for several booths selling the popular Code 3 Collectibles. There was a bookseller there, too, and a squad of New York City firefighters (and their families) hawking tee-shirts and ball caps to benefit a burn center. I don't know if they did *quite* as brisk a business as the female firefighters from Flor- ida, who were signing copies of their 1999 calendar. (They ap- peared at the Expo's flea market the next day, wearing star-span- gled bikini tops and nothing else. Except turnout pants.) By the third hour, our feet were growing sore and our eyes were glazing over. (Well, okay, my *companion's* eyes.) So off we went, in search of Something Else, hoofing through the heat to the harbor in search of ice cream (Dippin' Dots!) and some much-needed air- conditioned rest at Barnes and Noble. (She browsed; I napped.) For dinner, we sought out a recommended German restaurant on the east side of town. (Just past that big park called... Patterson Square?) Though exceptionally unassuming on the outside, nearly every. square. inch. of the dining area was covered-- and I mean *covered*-- with museum-quality art. We gazed; we gawked; and I shot a half-roll of pictures. Regrettably, the food was nothing special. (Think cafeteria quality, as served by slow old women in white.) Our final quest for the day was to find lodging. Having made neither reservations nor even inquired about a place to stay, we simply headed north on I-83. At exit after exit we discovered no vacancy after no vacancy. We finally caught a Comfort Inn in York, PA, where we nabbed the very last room. (A golf tourney was happening.) And with the sun fading fast, we even managed an hour's exploration of the gorgeous Penn countryside-- all rolling hills and lush farmland. Sunday morning sent us back to Baltimore for the Firematic Flea Market. (The traditional apparatus parade wasn't happening that year, for reasons unknown to me.) We parked a block up from the downtown fire station and a couple blocks further from the conven- tion center. I don't remember much about the market, 'cept that my wallet was $100 lighter, my bag filled with fire-related good- ies (mostly books), and my feet sore from "running around like a chicken with its head cut off." (Her words.) I also recall a- nother collector beating me by mere seconds to a Corgi Chubb crash truck, circa mid-1970. Grrrr... After a not-so-short pit-stop at the station-- where I shot a roll of Baltimore's many specialized rescue rigs-- we returned to Richmond, but not before swinging by the Marine Corps Museum at Quantico. (Air and ground warfare, from WWI through Vietnam.) Sunday night saw a birthday party for Sweetie's sister, a second viewing of THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME pour moi, and bed by midnight. (No comment on erotic dreams involving the Fat Man of Dubious Lineage...) And then on Monday we went home. Four days later and the memories still linger. The free stuff. The flashing lights. All that wonderful red. And all those big, burly boys, acting like excited kids with some of the biggest and most expensive toys imaginable. (Hey, I got to play with a hand- held thermal imager! And a remotely controlled deluge gun!) Oh sure, it's a grim business and its core. These are the tools of a trade that deals with death, destruction, illness, and injury. These are the tools that, ideally, no person should ever encoun- ter. The firefighters-- and all emergency services professionals, in fact-- do it with undeterred dedication. And camaraderie. And with a hearty, irrepressible gusto. I know *I* wore a wide, shiny smile as I walked that exhibit floor. As did most of the other attendees... Copyright 1999 by Michael J. Legeros
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