Most people drink coffee to help them wake up from a state of fatigue, but Duane McKee is selling coffee to patrons in hopes of waking them up to another problem: dwindling enrollment in the volunteer fire service.
For roughly eight weeks, from March 4 through the end of April, McKee is renting a mobile coffee truck from Pouneh Coffee and parking it at 8510 Fort Smallwood Road, next to the Rivera Beach Volunteer Fire Company. From that mobile station, McKee is serving hot coffee, cold brew, hot tea, hot chocolate, spiced apple cider, lattes, juice and other beverages along with oatmeal, muffins, breakfast sandwiches, and fresh bagels.
Once he has raised $100,000, he will pair that money with funds secured from a business loan to finish constructing Second Alarm Brewhouse, a nonprofit coffee shop designed to raise awareness about the volunteer fire service.
Second Alarm Brewhouse will replace the building that was left vacant when The Firehouse Pub closed in 2017 after four years of service.
With coffee, free Wi-Fi, grub from award-winning food trucks and space to relax, McKee envisions Second Alarm Brewhouse as a community hub. Coffee shop by day, the space would expand by 2020, turning into a pub by night.
“I’m a lieutenant next door in the firehouse, so I was looking for a way to bring the community together, not have this as a bar but have it open during the day for the community and at the same time create some awareness for the volunteer fire service in our county because we are dying,” said McKee, who has been a volunteer firefighter for 24 years.
“It is kind of ridiculous,” he added. “We have firehouses that are closing; volunteer firehouses that have been there since the 1920s, 1910s are closing because they just don’t have the people anymore.”
According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, which distributed its most recent report in 2015, participation dropped from 897,750 volunteer firefighters in 1984 to 788,250 in 2014. While the number of volunteers has decreased, the number of annual calls has nearly tripled.
As enrollment has dipped, the average age of firefighters has spiked. The NVFC attributes both outcomes to recruitment challenges resulting from increased time demands and more rigorous training requirements.
“There’s a generational gap,” McKee said. “With our parents and our grandparents, there was a Kevin Bacon effect — my neighbor was a volunteer firefighter or my brother is a volunteer firefighter. Nowadays, there is none of that.”
The Anne Arundel County Fire Department (AACoFD) recently submitted its 2018 report to the National Fire Protection Association. Captain Russ Davies, a spokesman for AACoFD, said the report counted 842 career personnel and 721 riding volunteer firefighters who staff Anne Arundel County’s 31 fire stations. That number did not include volunteers who provide administrative duties exclusively.
Anne Arundel County Volunteer Firefighters Association President Victor Henderson applauded McKee and the Rivera Beach Volunteer Fire Company for their continued efforts to provide the community with effective volunteer fire service and emergency medical services. He said the organization has offered McKee a helping hand if needed.
“Unfortunately, volunteer fire and EMS companies across the country are experiencing lower membership numbers,” Henderson said. “Anne Arundel County is not immune to this trend and therefore the Anne Arundel County Volunteer Firefighters Association’s recruitment and retention committee is continuously looking for new ways to recruit fire and EMS personnel for all of its member companies.”
McKee thinks he can make a dent in that problem by educating more people about Anne Arundel County’s volunteer fire service, and by doing it in a fun way. But first, he has work to do. McKee wants to add windows and a fireplace to the building, clear space for a conference room that would host volunteer firefighters, and attach half a fire truck to the building.
“So when you come out, the kids can go in and all the switches work and everything but the sirens,” he said. “The neighbors would hate the sirens. Again, it’s all about the awareness of the volunteer fire service, so in here would look very similar to a Firehouse Subs or something like that.”
McKee, who also spearheads a likeminded nonprofit called 77Rescue Inc., said it would be too lofty a goal to raise money for the Riviera Beach Volunteer Fire Company.
For now, customers can find him in the coffee truck Monday through Friday from 6:00am to 1:00pm. They can also learn more by finding his page on GoFundMe or by visiting www.secondalarmbrewhouse.com.
McKee hopes his message and his morning beverages allow people to wake up from more than their sleepiness.
“We’re not raising money for the firehouse,” McKee said. “That would be impossible. You would never win. Maybe as a bar but not as a coffee shop. Our money goes toward advertising; it goes toward what the military does: the ‘Be All You Can Be’ ads and all that. It’s specifically focusing on Anne Arundel County and their volunteer fire service.”