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Anne Arundel Alarmers Dispatch Hospitality to Lifesavers

Former firefighters volunteer to support police and fire departments around the county with coffee, Gatorade and hot meals.

When a fire breaks out in Anne Arundel County, Bertha Saghy is ready.

She breaks out her phone and alerts her team. They rush to the Ferndale Volunteer Fire Department in Glen Burnie, jump on the truck and go.

"We're almost always stocked," Saghy said. "Sometimes the Jeep will have to stop and pickup hot dogs or buns."

Saghy and her team are known as the Anne Arundel Alarmers, a volunteer canteen unit that provides food and refreshments for firefighters and police officers.

The nonprofit started on a cold night in January 1958, according to its website. Al Brandt, George Lord and Harry Arrow noticed firefighters working on a fire at the A&P store on Crain Highway kept walking to area stores for hot coffee and a quick break. The men that realized that Anne Arundel County needed a canteen unit, and they started serving coffee out of Lord's station wagon.

Today the alarmers have 40 active members with Saghy serving as president. They've also expanded to a larger vehicle. The alarmers operate a fully stocked food truck that's built on a fire truck chassis. It comes complete with a gas stove, kitchen sink and soda fountain.

In 2004, the alarmers even added a bathroom—a luxury that's lacking on fire trucks.

"They are truly the unsung heroes of public safety," said Annapolis Fire Chief David Stokes.

Keith Hammack, a former firefighter turned volunteer, said the alarmers serve hot soup and coffee in the winter and cold Gatorade and watermelon in the summer. Hammack said a cup of water or a doughnut may seem simple, but it can be a great comfort after a shift inside a working fire.

"A lot of guys are retired firemen from the county, Baltimore City and Baltimore County," Hammack said. "Everybody joins up and comes on to support the firemen."

Like similar canteen units in Baltimore and Prince George's Counties, the alarmers survive mostly on donations. Their big fundraising event is an annual Christmas Tree sale at the Ferndale station.

"The county does support us," Hammack said. "They help pay for our fuel."

In 2011, the alarmers responded to 49 calls, according to their website. In 2012, volunteers have already put in about 1,000 volunteer hours responding to 38 calls. On those calls they've served about 400 doughnuts, 1,400 sodas, 1,900 hot dogs and 108 cases of Gatorade.

"We're usually the last ones to leave," Saggey said. "We stay until the end."

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