Bel Air Legion praised

From left, Bel Air Fire Chief Edward Hopkins, American Legion Post 39 Historian and Past Commander Carol Baker and Dick Gebhard, board president and past post commander, pose for a photo Wednesday night, after Hopkins praised the post for assisting residents from a nearby apartment complex who were displaced during a fire last month. (DAVID ANDERSON | AEGIS STAFF, The Aegis / December 12, 2013)

Members of American Legion Post 39 of Bel Air were recognized Wednesday night for their efforts to assist the victims of a three-alarm fire at the nearby Hickory Hills apartment complex last month that displaced 24 people.

The fire caused an estimated $1 million in damages to a three-story apartment building in the 200 block of Crocker Drive. It was the third serious fire there in three years.

The fire was reported shortly after 4 a.m. on Nov. 14, and at the request of the Bel Air Police Department, top officials of Post 39 opened the doors of the Legion hall at 500 N. Hickory Ave. to residents who had escaped with nothing but their sleepwear.

The post is about a third of a mile from the apartment complex and served as a shelter for about 12 hours, where residents were able to get inside a warm location, get hot drinks, food and medicine.

"It was a fantastic day for the Legion to shine," Dick Gebhard, board president and past post commander, told members who gathered at the Legion hall for the post's business meeting.

Gebhard recognized members Carol Baker, past commander and historian for the post, plus first vice commander of the Legion Department of Maryland; current post Commander Russ Getz and post Manager Kim Dunaway for opening the post and assisting the victims.

"They were here all day," he said of Baker, Dunaway and Getz.

Gebhard, who also worked at the post that day, said later that representatives of the American Red Cross and Harford County Crisis Center came to the Legion post to meet the displaced residents and provide them with further assistance.

He said post officials work closely with the Town of Bel Air and the town police department, and open the facility "any time the town needs us."

Edward Hopkins, fire chief of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company and a member of the Board of Town Commissioners, spoke during the meeting and thanked members for their help.

"You always have a friend in the Bel Air Fire Company," Hopkins said.

Hopkins sent a letter on town stationery expressing his and the town government's thanks to the members of Post 39.

"Not only did the families find warmth and welcoming help, they were also provided with coffee, doughnuts and the cartoon channel warmed up for the children who did not expect to spend a Thursday morning outside of their homes," Hopkins wrote in the Dec. 2 letter.

The November fire, which is still under investigation, was the second at the complex this year. In April, eight units in another building were destroyed and 20 people were displaced.