by Timmy Gelles GAZETTE NEWSPAPER Staff Writer
It's a cold Saturday evening in late February and 50 firefighters have been battling a blaze at a single-family home for over an hour. Nearby, a large RV is parked and helping the effort, not by providing water to battle the fire, but to stave off dehydration.
And inside, helping firefighters and paramedics is H. Edward "Eddie" Ricks. "I can't do heavy lifting or fight fires, but this I can do," Ricks, 64, said. "When you hydrate somebody, it's as important as fighting the fire, or anything else at the scene of an emergency."
The Laurel native operates Laurel's Rehabilitation/Canteen Unit. The 44-foot long vehicle provides free beverages, food, restroom facilities and shelter during emergencies or festivals. It includes grilles, microwaves, coolers and other amenities. Ricks is a former city councilman from the 1980s, firefighter and director of the Family Court Operations Division of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Three years ago at a fire on Route 197, Ricks said he saw the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department's Ladies Auxiliary Unit providing food and beverages out of the back of a pickup truck.
Knowing Bowie and Prince George's County had their own canteen trucks and heeding Mayor Craig A. Moe's desire for the city to be self-sufficient, he said he was inspired to find ways for the city to have its own. Ricks said Moe had him search for a vehicle that could provide rehabilitation services, including provisions and minor medical care like triages. Since purchasing the $35,000 1989 canteen truck from the Anne Arundel County Alarmer's Association in August, Ricks said he and 23 other volunteers have replaced the sinks, microwaves, grilles, refrigerators and coolers to meet health codes and allow for quicker cooking times, all while remaining well under the $70,000-plus operating budget provided by the city.
"That's a major commitment of tax dollars for something you don't use everyday," he said. "But when you need it, you need it." Ricks added that a new canteen vehicle would have cost the city at least $175,000. Ricks is currently a member of the city's Emergency Services Commission and, when not responding to an emergency or attending a festival with the canteen, finds ways to replace or update the vehicle's cooking and cleaning amenities.
Robert "Pop" Grant, Laurel Volunteer Fire Department vice-president, said Ricks' involvement with the canteen is an extension of his personal goodwill. "He's out to help the community as a whole.
And whenever he can, he does," he said of his colleague of 27 years. Jim Collins, city spokesman, said Ricks remains a public servant, even in retirement. "Some people as they get older slow down but he keeps going like the Energizer Bunny," he said. "The canteen is another extension of what he's done his entire life, and that's take care of people."
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Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter, EMT or an administrative member should visit their local Fire/EMS Station or call 301-583-1914.