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Hagerstown firefighter battles Florida flames

July 15, 1998

photo: courtesy of Terry Brown

Local FireFighter aids FloridaBy MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer

Terry Brown ate a lot of smoke during the week he fought fires in Flagler County, Fla., but he knew what he was getting into when he volunteered.

Brown, 42, captain at First Hose Fire Co., was exhausted and grungy when he returned to Hagerstown late Monday. But he was feeling pretty good about the contribution he made in the battle against Florida's worst brush fires in a decade.

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When a fax came in July 3 from the Maryland Emergency Management Agency requesting volunteers to fight the Florida blazes, Brown thought about it for a day and signed up.

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A full-time emergency medical technician at Community Rescue Service, Brown first had to make sure CRS could spare him for a week.

"They were great," Brown said. "They said for me to go ahead and go, that they would cover for me."

Brown and 37 other volunteers from across Maryland flew out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport on July 7, with the state emergency management agency paying their expenses.

Terry BrownA veteran firefighter, Brown said he had never been in a situation where there was so much fire.

"I've trained for it but it's just not the same," he said.

He also wasn't used to having to keep an eye out for alligators and deadly coral snakes, but he learned fast.

Cardinal rules were drilled into all firefighters when they went on the fire lines, Brown said. Forgetting any of them could have been fatal.

They were told to always maintain a lookout, keep in constant communications, always have an escape route and a safety zone.

There also were a few tips: "We were told to maintain a slow pace and drink lots and lots of water," Brown said. "I was really glad I was in good shape when I went down there."

At one point, the winds shifted and about 20 residents of a development had to be evacuated, Brown said. "They had to leave everything ... I just can't imagine what that would be like."

In that situation, Brown and his crew worked on hot spots while bulldozers built firebreaks near the homes, which were saved.

Brown said he was never scared, although he did feel anxious sometimes. He said the feeling was hard to describe.

While in Florida, Brown and others stayed in an office building near the Daytona Beach Speedway. The employees of the racetrack and others took care of the volunteers' needs.

"The only thing I lost was a week's wages and my perspective of time," Brown said. "Sometimes you only knew the difference between night and day."

What he gained was a feeling of satisfaction and appreciation for his efforts.

"Coming back on the plane, there were two of us aboard and when the pilot announced that fact, everyone cheered and came up to shake our hands," Brown said.

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