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Sound the Alarm

Putting out fires with coffee and pastries? 

By Judy Colbert 

Editor’s Note: Since this story appeared, Second Alarm Brewhouse has announced they will open the pub portion of the business July 12 to members.

Longtime Pasadena residents may recognize the building next to the Riviera Beach Volunteer Fire Station as a former biker bar, which sat empty for five years. Today it is the home of Second Alarm Brewhouse, a coffeehouse by day and soon, a pub by night. 

For now, the firehouse-themed café is helping to fund a dream for owner Duane McKee. The 43-year-old hopes to turn all those purchases of coffee, pastries and eventually, beers, into a future funded position for a volunteer fire department recruiter. 

It’s a dream that is grounded in reality. McKee grew up in Anne Arundel County but spent many years as a sound engineer and designer for Broadway and road touring theater companies. Although he spent a lot of time on the road, he was a volunteer for 20 years at the Arundel VFD and now he’s a captain at the Riviera Beach VFD. Those 27 years in volunteer fire departments have made a lasting impact on him. He’s part of a long history where “volunteers have supported the Anne Arundel County fire departments for more than 100 years,” says McKee. 

While maybe not as influential as his work in Oprah Winfrey’s The Color Purple or Bette Midler’s Hello Dolly!, his latest production is receiving rave reviews. 

“They have tasty beverages and food items, and I love the fact that by making a purchase you are also giving back to the community,” says Melissa Reedy, of Odenton. “The atmosphere is comfortable and cozy, like you are part of a firehouse family, and everyone treats you as such from the moment you step foot inside the door.” 

The coffeehouse sells its own Firehouse Blend, supplied by Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company, tea from the Shab Row Tea Emporium in Frederick and breakfast daily consisting of pastries, sandwiches and smoothies (6am-2pm). The interior is decorated like a museum to all things firefighting. Sit on a comfy sofa or at a high-top table, play chess, chat with friends, enjoy the Wi-Fi and the beverages. 

While you’re there, notice the fire hoses, the sprinkler heads used as coat and purse hooks, and a fire hydrant that’s also a coffee dispenser. The numbered lights around the perimeter represent the fire stations in the county. The ones with lights on are those that have been closed. The others light up when they receive a call. 

The interior is completely ADA-compliant and this summer an Eagle Scout project will tackle installing a lift on the left side of the building, next to the handicapped parking spaces. Additionally, the front part of a fire engine (from about the ‘60s or ‘70s) that includes the front and back seats will be installed at the front door. Do you have little ones or are you still a little one at heart? Flash those lights (no sirens, sorry) or try on some firefighting gear. 

McKee plans for the upcoming Brewhouse pub to open in the afternoons, about 3pm, and feature Maryland beers (10 on tap) and wines. He also plans to bring in food trucks and offer food delivery service through a number of apps. 

Proceeds from Brewhouse purchases, sales of souvenirs (shirts, mugs, etc.), paving bricks and donations to the GoFundMe campaign will help launch the pub and professional recruiter. It’s a vital part of the process McKee has envisioned. A full-time recruiter could go into the community, attend scout meetings, career day events for junior and high school or other populations, and anywhere people might gather, to explain the responsibilities and benefits of joining the volunteer fire department, whether it’s as a fire fighter, EMT, or helping with administrative duties.  

“So, if you like bookkeeping, running a bingo game, arranging for Santa to visit local communities, and any number of other duties, you’re invited to join [the VFD],” says McKee. “Among the benefits are free training for firefighters, rescue and emergency personnel…retirement…scholarships… a tax break…and a family of lifelong friendships.” 

With a little luck and a lot of community support, soon McKee can post that help wanted ad. 

Second Alarm Brewhouse is at 8510 Fort Smallwood Rd., Pasadena, 410-888-3025. Find them on Instagram and Facebook.