Members of the Level Volunteer Fire Company gathered Saturday for their annual awards banquet to honor those who had done "their Level best" to protect the community over the past year – and during the past 60 years.
Residents of the area around the small Harford County village of Level, snuggled in the rural areas between Churchville and Havre de Grace, got together in February and March of 1953 to form a community volunteer fire company, according to a history posted on Level's website.
"It's just hard to imagine," charter member Joe Worthington recalled, standing in the fire station's vehicle bay, surrounded by a variety of trucks and other modern-day firefighting and rescue apparatus.
"The first meeting we had, nobody knew what to do," he joked
Worthington, who served as fire chief for 13 years, and fellow charter member Kenneth Starr received special honors from the fire company Saturday, as well as state and county officials who represent Harford County.
Worthington recalled when the company purchased its first fire truck.
"It wasn't much of a truck, but we had to have a truck," he said while standing with his wife, Margaret – a long-serving member of the Ladies Auxiliary, who was also honored Saturday – in the vehicle bay. "It's great to see so many people and this kind of equipment; man, it's almost unreal!"
Margaret Worthington remarked: "Keep on doing things for the community, taking care of everybody; that's the main thing!"
The company was known as the Community Volunteer Fire Company until it was renamed Level Volunteer Fire Company Inc. in 1973, according to the website.
The Worthingtons and Starr were far from the only people honored Saturday. A number of firefighters, EMS workers and members of the Ladies Auxiliary were honored for 60 years, 50 years, 40 years, 35 years, 30 years, 25 years, 15 years, 10 years and five years of service to the company and the community.
Several videos chronicling Level's history, produced by members of the company, were shown Saturday. One video included a tribute to the late firefighter Aaron J. Peterson, who died in July at age 45 after being seriously injured in a May motorcycle accident on Route 40.
Special honors were given to the members of the Ladies Auxiliary, which provides a variety of behind-the-scenes support services to the fire and EMS units. The auxiliary is open to men, as well.
"Every volunteer fire company has its backbone, and that is the ladies auxiliary," emcee Richard Brooks, who also serves as head of emergency services in Cecil County, said. "Here at Level, that is no exception."
Auxiliary President Karen Lopes noted in her remarks that the group has "dedicated 60 volunteer years" to supporting the company.
"As we continue, we will continue our motto of standing behind our men and doing our Level best," she said.
Young members honored
Level President Jason Gallion also encouraged recognition of the younger firefighters and EMS workers. He reminded them they were "following in the footsteps of a lot of great people who, over the past 60 years, have truly given their Level best."
Some of the youngest members of the company received top awards for 2012. Timothy Sturgill Jr., 18, was named EMS Person of the Year, and Marvin Jackson, 19, was named Firefighter of the Year.
Both were humble when asked their thoughts on receiving the awards.
"We had a great group of people riding the ambulance this year," Sturgill said.
Jackson added: "You're not in it for the awards; you're just in it for the community, but it's always nice when the company shows appreciation."
Robert Janssen, the company's historian, was recognized Saturday, and he also spoke briefly about the company he has spent decades chronicling – he remarked he had collected every local newspaper clipping about the Level company during the past 60 years.
The longtime Baltimore County resident said after the awards ceremony he had always wanted to support a volunteer fire company, but was not able to where he lived, since there were only paid firefighters in his community.
The formation of the Level company, near his family's Harford County farmland, gave him the opportunity.
"I said, 'That's my chance to get in a fire department, I'll come up and help them,' " he recalled.
Janssen recorded the company's history and even ran calls as a firefighter.
Speakers during Saturday's ceremony reflected on how firefighting and rescue technology has changed over the years.
A recent event, when several Level firefighters and EMS workers used a makeshift oxygen mask fashioned from a plastic fast food cup to resuscitate a black Labrador rescued during a Feb. 11 house fire on Aldino Road, was touched on several times during the evening.
The Humane Society of Harford County has since donated pet oxygen masks, which come in several sizes to fit over a pet's nose and mouth, to the Level VFC.
"Who would have thought, 60 years ago, we would be carrying a pet oxygen mask on an ambulance?" Ambulance Capt. Sandra Gallion asked. "So things are progressing, things are changing."
Thanks from Boniface
Harford County Council President Billy Boniface, who was among the local elected officials presenting awards to members of the fire company, thanked the company for their love and support for his family in the wake of the passing of his 20-year-old son, Benjamin, who died last summer in a vehicle accident on the family's Darlington farm.
"You are the heart and soul of this community," an emotional Boniface said.
The top 10 fire responders for 2012 included Buddy Testerman with 257 calls, Shane Sawyer with 248, Larry Mabe with 243, Marvin Jackson III with 225, Russell Gallion Sr. with 193, Jimmie Hawkins with 190, Daniel Hawkins with 181, James Martin Sr. with 177, Morris Wagner with 170 and Clinton Polk with 160.
The top 10 EMS responders included Timothy Sturgill with 119 calls, Rebekah Jewett with 91, Michael Towles with 90, Clinton Polk with 76, Shane Sawyer with 72, Matthew Orf with 62, Sandra Gallion with 60, Susan Blake with 54, Rachel Itzoe with 52 and Tyler Leavens with 45.