MIDDLE RIVER — After more than 60 years, Middle River Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company turned off the bells at its Leeland Avenue station for the last time at a ceremony Sunday.
It was a bittersweet evening — described by many as a second home, the station has long been a cornerstone of the company.
“We are in a stage of the grieving process,” said Karl Korinth, who has been with the company for nearly 50 years. “I for one am in the process of depression.”
The weight of the station’s history was heavy throughout the ceremony.
“We used to have all the equipment in the main room here,” Korinth recalled. “For an event on a Friday night, we’d have to take everything out, clean the floors and set up all the tables. Then afterward, we’d break it all down, clean the floors again and bring everything back in.”
Fundraisers, bingo, bartending, game nights — the station has played host to many crowds over the years. Korinth recalled hard times, wondering whether they’d have enough money to keep the lights on.
“Somehow, we made it,” he said.
The company’s earliest history stretches back to 1943, when the Wilson Point community first sought to create a fire service. In 1948, this service became housed at the still-operating station on Wilson Point Road as the Middle River Volunteer Fire Company Station 22. In 1960, the Leeland Avenue station became home to the Middle River Volunteer Ambulance Rescue Company Station 52.
These two companies operated side-by-side until incorporating under one banner in 2015. Together, they make up Middle River Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company Station 74.
There are big things ahead — the company plans for a permanent home for Station 74 in a brand new facility on the corner of Route 43 and Benjie’s Court. Executive President Bill Connelly said that he was looking ahead with optimism.
“It’s the next monumental step,” he said. “It’ll be a better space, a better future for us.”
It will be a long journey, though — the new station is still in the works, and will carry an estimated $8 million price tag. Connelly expects to launch a capital campaign to raise funds for the new facility by the end of this summer.
In the meantime, the company will share facilities with White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company, described by one volunteer as ‘crashing on a friend’s couch.’ Connelly thanked the neighboring company for its support, noting that they all work to help one another serve their local communities.
Averaging 3100 to 3500 Emergency Medical Services calls per year (“And never missing one,” Korinth said with pride), as well as many more rescue and dive calls, the company has long served the citizens of Middle River.
Ryan Nawrocki, a citizen who chairs the company’s board of directors, said that countless people have been impacted by the dedication and service of the company volunteers.
“We could not begin to quantify it,” he said. “It’s a real cornerstone of the community.”
In addition to much of the station’s current and past leadership, as well as colleagues and friends in other first responder and law enforcement organizations in the area, several local representatives attended the ceremony.
District 6 Councilwoman Kathy Bevins thanked the members for their service, and shared a resolution from the county council extending respect, appreciation and congratulations to the company volunteers.
She recalled organizing and attending community events at the station for more than a decade.
“I’m just so very proud of the men and women that served with this company,” she said. “Just think of the future, and all that this company is going to build.”
Joe Litwin, a dive team leader who has been with the company for nearly a decade, celebrated some recent successes, including wrapping up a $30,000 fundraiser for a new dive boat, which is on order.
Litwin was feeling the bittersweet mix of sadness and excitement on Sunday. While the station has been a second home for so long, he said that home is made up of the people. And he has a message for folks in the community: we’re not going anywhere.
“I’m confident things will come through,” he said. “All the members put their hearts and souls into the company.”
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