10-Alarm Pretzel Burner Tops Off IFBA Beef Roast

10-Alarm Pretzel Burner Tops Off IFBA Beef Roast

Bells, Buffs and Blazes

One of Baltimore’s fires is missing. It’s sad but true that the buffs in that city are in some consternation because of the lost fire.

The clues are that Box 7624 at Rosedale Street and Westwood Avenue was struck at 10:36 one morning and the second followed 10 minutes later.

While it would seem that evidence would quickly lead to a solution of the problem facing Baltimore’s Box 414 Association, Charles Price, editor of the chib’s General Alarm newsletter, has sounded the alarm and asked help from the membership in supplying the date of the fire.

To lesser mortals, one fire more or less wouldn’t seem to make much difference, especially in Baltimore where fires come thick and fast, as witnessed by buffs who attended the recent International Fire Buffs Associates convention in nearby Annapolis.

What all 388 who attended the convention will long remember is the big pretzel burnout. The delegates were at a crab and beef roast at the Earleigh Heights Firehouse when the intrepid John (otherwise referred to in documentary reports as “Poor John”) Hruska invoked parlimentary procedure to announce a third alarm had just been pulled for the Becker Pretzel and Potato Chip Company.

Now as every buff worthy of the name knows, a pretzel burn is something to see. And the buffs whose memories were long could recall that a month earlier the pretzel plant had burned. But IFBA members are not rash in their actions, and so they waited a few minutes until the sixth alarm was pulled.

“Does anybody want to go?” asked Poor John.

There were no reported casualties in the mass stampede that followed. By the time the eighth alarm was struck, the host Anne Arundel Alarmers brought up the rear with their canteen van with some of the IFBA member’s wives who missed getting a seat on the bus which had left earlier.

Except that neither the Box 414 nor Anne Arundel canteens served beer with the pretzels and potato chips, the spectacular water carnival was something to see. Baltimore even trotted out Water Tower 1 for what eventually turned into a 10-alarmer.

All of which is by way of prefacing the fact that Baltimore seems to be the place where the action’s at, as shown by a superb book, “The Unheralded Heroes,” by William A. Murray, curator and historian of the Baltimore Fireman’s Museum and a longtime member of the 414 Association. Murray is a historian with a fine sense of the all-but-lost or forgotten detail which comes alive through his facile typewriter.

“The Unheralded Heroes” ranks among the top three firemanic histories and belongs in everbody’s library, whether he calls himself a professional fire fighter or a buff. Murray’s book is one of those rarities which should not be read at one sitting. Rather, to savor the fvdl flavor of the Baltimore Fire Department past and present, the book should be read by merely letting the husky volume fall open to any page. The history is there and Bill Murray has done a scholarly job from that standpoint; but also present are the fascinating people of the eras from the volunteers to today’s fully-paid department.

I was particularly entranced by the author’s accounts of the exploits of William Cornell McAfee, who became chief at the age of 31 and was forced out by the time he was 35. Every fire buff has his favorite chief. And I suspect that McAfee ranks liigh in Murray’s estimation.

The temptation is strong for fire buffs to overlook the obvious shortcomings of the fire service in general and particularly those of the fire department to which they pay allegiance. The Baltimore Fire Department probably has no more loyal friend than Bill Murray, but he resists the temptation to whitewash events in the history of the department.

Murray tells the heroisms, countless heroisms, of unsung Baltimore fire fighters, but he also weaves into his narrative the politics, the chicanery and sometimes the sordidness. The reader sickens at the politicians who deny Chief McAfee’s rightful share of the credit during the Baltimore Fire, and he is amused by the firehouse crew which was caught entertaining women in the hose tower. It’s all there—good and bad—and tliis is what gives depth to Bill Murray’s book.

“The Unheralded Heroes”—about 200 pages and 100 photos—is available for $10.40 from William A. Murray, c/o Box 414 Association 423 N. Gay St., Baltimore, Md. 21202. A first-rate job and I hope they find Baltimore’s missing fire in time for his next book.

Editor’s Note: Paul Ditzel regrets that he is not able to answer letters personally. Material for his column shotdd be addressed to him, c/o FIRE ENGINEERING, 466 Lexington Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017.

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