At the annual convention of Maryland firefighters held two weeks ago in Ocean City, two volunteer firefighters from Calvert County distinguished themselves, and it wasn't for their ability with a fire hose.
The volunteers from the Dunkirk Fire and Rescue Company 5 were joined by four friends when they checked into Unit 505 at the Polynesian condominium. They unpacked their clothes, toothbrushes and a bed sheet with a homemade rendering of a woman's breasts and a crude invitation, witnesses said.
They strung that banner from their balcony on the busy boardwalk and settled in for six days of what the condo manager said was the worst behavior he had seen in 15 years of hosting firefighters for the annual convention.
"It was just awful," said Walter Mann, the manager. "They got here on Saturday, and the police were here that first night. The police came on Monday, we had security guards after that and then the police were here on Thursday to help me evict them when my patience finally ran out."
When it was over, Mann said, the firefighters left behind $900 in destruction--broken plates and glasses, carpets that had been burned and then soaked in vomit and beer, empty beer cans on the floor and a hole in the wall the size of a fist.
Fred Holzberger, president of the Dunkirk fire company, said the firefighters were not part of the squad's official delegation. Initially, Holzberger said he did not know the identities of the six, but then he acknowledged that they included two members of the department who he said were "under 21" years of age.
"Yeah, they are members. But they were not there as part of the Dunkirk Fire Department, and I've been advised by my attorney that until a complaint is filed, there is nothing I can do," Holzberger said.
The attorney for the fire department is Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr. (D), the state Senate president who represents Calvert County and maintains a law office in Dunkirk.
Ocean City police officer Jay Hancock said police were called to the Polynesian four times during the firefighters' stay, mostly in response to complaints about disorderly conduct. At one point, the officers noted "firemen throwing something off the top deck of the Polynesian," Hancock said. No arrests were made.
"They made a name for themselves," Mann said. "They didn't hesitate to say, 'We're representing Dunkirk.' "
Calvert County's director of public safety, Robert Short, said he is investigating Mann's complaints.
He said he did not know the identities of the six men. Each of the county's fire companies sends representatives to the annual convention in Ocean City, trips that are funded from contributions raised by the firefighters.
Linda L. Kelley (R-Owings), the president of the board of county commissioners, said the allegations were disturbing. But she said she is confident it will not happen again. "The management of the firehouse has had a record of dealing swiftly and decisively when these types of problems come up," Kelley said.
This was the third recent episode in which a Calvert County fire squad has been accused of questionable behavior.
Last year, at a St. Leonard's Volunteer and Rescue Company 7 annual fund-raiser, men and women participated in "Best Buns" and wet T-shirt contests, in which some women lifted their shirts. Weeks later, the North Beach Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad rented its hall to a youth baseball group that had a female exotic dancer perform.