Aberdeen firefighters sprinted out of their annual banquet Saturday night as alarms alerted them to a fire in the area.
A little before 8:20 p.m., more than half the room of first responders celebrating at the main firehouse quickly cleared out, with several hopping on fire engines in the adjoining bays.
The fire in the 200 block of Moyer Drive, which took most of the honorees that night, was originally reported as a dwelling fire with rescue, Fire Chief Steven C. Hinch told the crowd. He said the fire was later classified as smoke showing from a basement.
"That just goes to show the dedication of the fire department," County Councilman Jim McMahan, the banquet's emcee, said.
Most of those who left on the fire call had not returned by the time the banquet ended.
At the start of the evening, nearly 200 area firefighters, friends and local officials gathered in the banquet room to celebrate 125 years of service and dedication provided by the men and women who protect and preserve life and property during fires and emergencies.
AFD President Ed Budnick said there aren't many things in Aberdeen that have been there for 125 years.
"There's the fire department, some churches and maybe the railroad tracks; 125 years is a short period in history, but not a lot of organizations survive that time period," Budnick said.
Budnick, who has been with the fire department for 39 years, said he has seen changes and tremendous growth in the fire services.
"The fire service changes yearly. It's become so tech-oriented and there's lots of training and compliance," Budnick said. "We've become more compliant and more accountable for what we have and do. It's an expensive business."
During Aberdeen's early years, there was no fire department, according to a booklet given out at the banquet. With the ringing church bell and shouts of "fire," residents would run and grab buckets to form a bucket brigade to put out the fire.
In 1889, J.A. Swingley and William B. Richardson organized a group of men to form the first volunteer fire department, incorporated as "The Aberdeen Fire Department Inc.," with Richardson as the chief. The first firehouse was built in 1896 at 103 W. Bel Air Ave.
Today, the Aberdeen Fire Department has about 100 members including active, lifers and auxiliary members, according to Budnick. The all-volunteer organization's members risk their lives to protect their community, without getting paid for it.
"[The fire department] is a great place to get an education and mentorship," said Budnick, whose entire family is involved in the fire department. "It's a very structured organization. It's a very highly respected field."
Since Harford County's Department of Emergency Services implemented a new records management system to collect data from the 12 area fire departments and EMS services last year, Aberdeen has been using the new system to log the number of calls fire fighters have responded to and the number of hours spent in-house.
D.B. Smith Jr. was the top fire responder for 2013 with 705 calls. Other top fire responders were: Dale Budnick Sr., 581 calls; Dale Budnick Jr., 525; Edward Budnick, 512; Noel Budnick, 387; Wilfried Adams, 357; Scott Budnick; 344; John Bender, 321; Chuck Glassman, 208; John Montague, 296; Bill Smith Jr., 270; Jim Clement, 262; Nick Weber, 262; Todd Piper, 257; and Brandon Collier, 252.
Dale Budnick Sr. was the top EMS responder with 69 calls. Other top EMS responders were: Judy Mills-Hinch, 34 calls; Jeff Sexton, 22; and Scott Budnick, seven.
During 2013, the Aberdeen Fire Department responded to 770 fire calls, 3,533 EMS calls and recorded 3,445 stand-by/sleep in hours and 8,169 administrative hours.
Also recognized in the banquet booklet were four dates in 2013 when Aberdeen Fire Department first responders saved lives: March 19, April 2, Sept. 24 and Christmas.
As department marked its 125th year, several members were recognized for length of service awards. Aberdeen Mayor Michael Bennett was honored for 50 years of service along with Don Wanless. Tony Bennett was honored for 45 years of service.
Other service awards went to Jonathan Bender, 15 years; James Casey, Amber Smith, Nicholas Weber and Michael Palmer, 10 years; and Brian Scott Jr., Duronte Frederick, Jonathan Ely and Brandon Collier, five years.
Gordon Biscomb received the annual Austin D. Amos award presented by the Harford and Cecil Co. Firefighters Association.
Mayor Bennett presented the fire department with a check for its annual allotment of $100,000 from the city budget to fund the firehouse. Bennett presented the fire company with another $100,000 check to help fund some of the recent big-ticket purchases.
Ed Budnick said the department recently purchased a new ambulance, which cost about $205,000. He said they are also looking to buy a new ladder tower, which will cost $1.2 million.
Bennett said in his time as mayor, he has helped to increase the annual funding of the firehouse from $80,000 to $100,000. He said he hopes to add an extra penny to the property tax rate next year to raise additional funds for the fire department.
"If we had to provide a paid fire department we would have to double our property tax rate," Bennett said. "This shows the importance of our volunteer fire department."