Daniel Bennett "D.B." Smith Sr. received a standing ovation from his fellow volunteers Saturday as his name was called as this year's recipient of the Aberdeen Fire Department's John. F. Bender Safety Award.
Smith, the patriarch of four generations in the fire service, sat at a table with his family during the Fire Department's annual awards banquet, held in the banquet hall of its North Rogers Street firehouse.
The winner of the award is a surprise, typically announced during the annual banquet. Smith said he was surprised when his name was called. He was helped to his feet and walked to the podium with the assistance of a cane.
John Bender, the department's safety officer and the namesake of the award, talked about Smith before his name was called, describing him as someone "who has demonstrated a lifetime of commitment and priority to the concerns and safety of firefighters."
Bender continued, reading from prepared remarks: "There is no way to know how many firefighter lives may have been saved, or injuries prevented, by the example and training demonstrated by this individual, but I have no doubt that the training grounds and the emergency scenes were made infinitely safer over the more than 70 years this individual has served the Maryland fire service, and for generations to come, because of his influence and concern for the safety of firefighters."
Smith, the department's past chief and past president, was briefly overcome with emotion as he recalled his time in the fire service, and the times when he no longer ran calls.
"That was a hard thing to do, when you've been used to going [to emergency calls] all your life, and the whistle goes off and you can't go," he said after the banquet.
Smith, who also served as fire chief at Aberdeen Proving Ground, had been involved with fire departments for 73 years, beginning his career as a volunteer firefighter in Cecil County at age 16.
He spent 63 years volunteering with the Aberdeen Fire Department.
Three generations of his descendants serve with Aberdeen, including three of his great-grandchildren who are firefighters and EMTs.
"It's great for him," great-grandson Austin Smith said of the award. "Actually, he's done a lot for us; he's set a lot of the standards that we try and meet nowadays."
Robert Thomas, spokesman for the Harford County government, presented a proclamation to the fire department on behalf of County Executive David R. Craig, as well as a citation and American flag pin of the "same design and style" worn by the U.S. president to Smith.
Thomas noted he was working as a state deputy fire marshal when he first met Smith in the late 1970s.
"Aberdeen has a real voice at the table with respect to fire and safety related issues," Thomas said of the fire department.
The department also received proclamations from the Harford County Council and the Maryland House of Delegates, presented by Council Councilman Richard Slutsky, who represents the Aberdeen, Churchville and Fountain Green areas, and Del. Glen Glass, who represents areas of Harford and Cecil counties.
"We just really appreciate everything you do, keeping us all safe, and we know it's a big sacrifice," Glass said.
Slutsky told the volunteers: "We truly appreciate every one of you, past and present; thank you for everything you do every day for all us citizens of Aberdeen."
Top department officials presented a variety of recognitions Saturday, including to the top 15 fire responders and top five EMS responders for 2012.
The top 15 fire responders included D.B. Smith Jr. with 813 calls, Dale Budnick Jr. with 469 calls, Dale Budnick Sr. with 455 calls, Wilfried Adams with 394, Jon Ely with 377, Scott Budnick with 367, Edward Budnick with 343, Todd Piper with 287, Charles Glassman with 283, Donald Collier Jr. with 281, Steven S. Hinch with 279, Brandon Collier with 276, Joshua Montague with 261, Tony Bennett with 255 and John Hopkins with 255.
The top five EMS responders included Judy Mills-Hinch with 185 calls, Donald Collier Jr. with 122, Mary Ann Baublitz with 58, Dale Budnick Sr. with 53 and Jeffrey Sexton with 52.
The department responded to 4,244 calls for service overall last year, including 826 fire calls and 3,418 EMS calls.
Length of Service awards went to James Shirley for 60 years, Wilfried Adams and Fred Morlok for 45 years, Keith Budnick for 35 years and Adam Smith and Randy Piper for five years.
Aberdeen Mayor Michael Bennett presented at $100,000 check to fire officials, the city's annual contribution to the fire department.
Fire Chief Steven C. Hinch also made some special recognitions. He thanked firefighter Debbie Rizzuto, who is in charge of recruitment and retention, for her efforts to bring in new volunteers as the city grows.
"She's doing a great job bringing in more people, which we really need," Hinch said.
The fire chief also recognized the personnel in the No. 3 firehouse, who logged more than 6,000 hours of "standby time," sleeping over in the firehouse last year.
Fire Department President Russell Piper said staying in the firehouse enables personnel to respond to an emergency much more quickly, rather than responding from their homes, which many volunteers traditionally do.
Hinch said the "younger generation is starting to pick up the ball and run with it."
The evening ended with the showing of a video – made by a group of younger volunteers – chronicling the past and present exploits of the Aberdeen Fire Department.
Almost as if on cue, the emergency siren on the firehouse sounded as the video faded to black, and an emergency call blared over the station's PA system. A mass of volunteers – many of them wearing dress uniforms – surged out of the banquet hall.
Within a few minutes, a fire truck pulled out with lights flashing and siren blaring.
Piper called it a "perfect ending."