The Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company celebrated its achievements in 2011 at its annual banquet Saturday night at St. Matthew Lutheran Church amid a time of change for the county's fire service that hasn't been sitting well with many volunteers and their leaders.
But the upheaval in the fire service didn't dim the honors bestowed on the star of the night, Shawnya Bray, who was named the fire company's Unsung Hero.
Deputy Chief Rick Davis said Bray has gone above and beyond the call of duty not only by participating in ambulance training, but also by taking the lead for ordering drugs and helping around the firehouse, putting up knick-knacks and filling the vending machines every week.
"She is an outstanding member of this department," Davis said.
Several elected officials, including state Del. Susan McComas, Bel Air Mayor and BAVFC Chief Eddie Hopkins and Sen. Barry Glassman congratulated Bray and presented her with certificates.
"Doggone it, the Senate and the House could use someone like this [woman]," McComas said.
Hopkins said Bray is "heads and tails above everyone."
On a personal level, he said, "She is great to talk to and picks you up."
Also attending the banquet were County Councilman Dick Slutzky, Bel Air Town Administrator Chris Schlehr and Bel Air Town Commissioners Susan Burdette and Dave Carey.
County Councilman Jim McMahan was master of ceremonies and went out of his way to reassure the fire company members they have the support from the county council.
After a fire and EMS study completed last year, the county's fire companies were caught in a controversy when Harford County Executive David Craig proposed a permanent county fire and EMS commission to oversee what are essentially private organizations. The council is still mulling over the commission legislation which could be headed for defeat.
The council also recently approved $400,000 in "stop-gap" funding after the county's Volunteer Fire & EMS Foundation, which runs a paid emergency ambulance service, ran out of money months before the end of this fiscal year.
McMahan said fire officials are being challenged more than ever.
"The public demands are absolutely overwhelming," he said. "They ask for things they know little or nothing about. It's harder and harder to find dedicated people anymore, but the criticism keeps on coming...we hear it in Bel Air because we try to do things right."
"It's the most important time in the history of the fire service in Harford County," McMahan continued. "[Council] President [Billy] Boniface and the Harford County Council is committed to you and we want to get it right."
The county will continue to have "the best fire and EMS service available in the State of Maryland," he added.
As for other honors, veteran members Dick Woodward and Shirley MacLean received standing ovations for serving the company for 55 years. Also recognized were Steve Cox, who has also been with the company for 40 years, and Joanne Magness, who has served 35 years.
Richard Presberry received an award for answering his 25,000th fire call in 2011.
The top 20 fire responders for 2011, in ascending order, were: Bill Marshall with 574 responses, Bill Wynne with 580, Adam Seimek with 603, Gus Everhardt with 650, Mike Altadonna with 658, Brandon Ruble with 660, Mike Walker with 679, Bob Kral with 693, Aaron Bellmyer with 710, Todd Schlossnagle with 745, Scott Panowitz with 802, Ed Hopkins with 827, Rob Claridge with 840, Mark Johnson with 846, Eric Ryan with 946, Bill Snyder with 1,004, Ricky Davis with 1,032, Richard Presberry with 1,092, Scott McNutt with 1,119 and Ronald Britton with 1,274.
The top 10 EMS responders for number of calls, in ascending order, were: Erik Ryan with 86, Kevin Kadolph with 91, Mike Marino with 101, Dave Birk with 122, Meghan Cochran with 124, Michelle Cox with 135, Shawnya Bray with 137, Jessica Nassner with 169, Leigha Reader with 205 and Bev Britton with 294.
The top 10 EMS responders for duty hours, in ascending order, were: Brad Baker with 226, Jim Plumer with 240.5, Susan Eyre with 244, Phillip Hohman with 281.5, Dave Birk with 286, Leigha Reader with 300, Jessica Nassner with 304, Mike Fields with 310, Shawnya Bray with 318.5 and Bev Britton with 622.5.