Dave Weissert and Robert Patrylak were recognized Saturday night with the Darlington Volunteer Fire Company’s highest honor, the James Warner Award, which is given to members who serve the fire company to the best of their ability and make personal sacrifices to do so.
During the company’s annual awards banquet at Darlington’s main firehouse on Castleton Road, company leaders recognized members for their service to the company and community in 2017.
They also recognized the challenges facing Darlington and other volunteer fire companies in Harford County, as call volumes — especially for EMS — increase while the pool of volunteers shrinks and costs to provide service climb, but funding does not keep up.
Darlington handled 276 fire calls and 921 EMS calls last year. Chief Samuel Sauers said the company handled about 400 to 500 total calls a year until around 2000, when volumes began to steadily increase.
Countywide issues, such as population growth and the opioid crisis, have affected even rural communities such as Darlington, according to Sauers.
“We’re going to see that, as the county gets more populated, the call volume goes up, we’ll be taxed more often,” he said.
Sauers said, however, that the fire company has a number of young members and its members are dedicated to training.
“People are out there, and they’re doing their jobs every day; we pull it off,” he said.
EMS Chief Linda Thomas praised members’ dedication despite an increased call volume, inclement weather and increased costs such as having to purchase medications and other inventory, as well as augmenting volunteer EMS with paid paramedics.
“Despite that, it is the dedication of our fire and EMS family, that we continue to provide our community with the service that they expect,” Thomas said.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman is developing a county-run EMS system, and the first of two county-owned ambulances hit the road in January.
“The county administration is putting some EMS initiatives forward and I’ll look forward to seeing how that works for us,” Sauers said. “At this point in time I’ll take any help we can get.”
Service above self
The James Warner Award is named for Darlington’s late treasurer who, at times, used his own money to help pay the company’s bills. Warner, an accomplished photographer known for his images taken in the Amish communities, was a person who “just lived for the fire company,” President Michael Vincent said.
The award is not presented every year; however, this year, there were two honorees, Patrylak and Weissert.
“On a number of occasions I, personally, have witnessed him go out and, just like Jim [Warner] did, if we need something he goes out and he gets it and he’s not afraid to pull a few dollars out of his own pocket,” Sauers said of Patrylak.
Patrylak has completed “a ton of training” over the years with Darlington, and he has become Sauers’ “go-to guy” for swiftwater and tactical rescues. Sauers encouraged banquet attendees to check out the boats and other swiftwater rescue equipment in the engine bay.
“Those things out there are his little babies,” Sauers said.
Weissert, a former fire chief who is the training officer, also received the Warner Award in 1993 and 2005. He is known for his dedication to training, especially younger members.
“He’s always out there... making sure that they’ve got the skills, when they get into a situation, that they know exactly what they’re going to do,” Vincent said.
Patrylak and Weissert, along with other top award winners, received citations and proclamations from elected officials such as state Sen. Wayne Norman, Dels. Andrew Cassilly and Teresa Reilly, Glassman and County Councilman Chad Shrodes, on behalf of their respective governing bodies.
“What an honor it is, and we thank you for your outstanding service and all the hours that you put in for the citizens here in Darlington and Harford County,” Reilly, chair of Harford County’s House delegation, told Patrylak.
Fire company leaders also recognized the winners of Darlington’s other “senior awards,” or top honors.
Jacob Hecht was named Fireman of the Year for 2017, Carolyn Phillips was named EMS Person of the Year and Willard Evans was named Administrative Person of the Year.
The Harford-Cecil Volunteer Firemen’s Association inducted two Darlington members into its Hall of Fame Saturday — Weissert and Barbara Evans, the administrative captain for 2018.
Weissert has been with Darlington for 33 years, Evans for 32. Evans has been an active member of Darlington’s auxiliary and a leader in fundraising, Ruth Tolliver, chair of the association’s Hall of Fame committee, said.
“I hope that Darlington continues to honor their members with the Hall of Fame as well as all the awards that you gave out tonight,” she said.
The company honored three members who died in 2017: Donald Cassett Sr., Ruth Cox and Billie McNutt.
Friends and family members attended the banquet, and company leaders gave them pictures of their loved ones and various gifts, such as a fire helmet recognizing Cassett’s service with Darlington and the Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company.
“We thank you, Lord, for this opportunity to pay tribute to Donald Cassett, Billie McNutt, Ruth Cox for their service to the communities they serve,” company chaplain Ralph Borden said.