Volunteer fire and EMS companies in Harford County traditionally celebrate their high-achieving members each year with a formal banquet, but the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company tried something slightly different this year.
Company leaders held a formal celebration in the main firehouse on South Hickory Avenue, instead of a banquet hall or banquet facilities of another local fire company.
They honored longtime members for their service, top responders on fire and EMS calls and remembered members killed in the line of duty or who passed away in the last year.
Members and guests, including state and local elected leaders, socialized and ate hors d'oeuvres before the awards ceremony.
Edward Hopkins, Bel Air's former fire chief and the county's current director of emergency services, was the master of ceremonies.
"We hope you enjoy the new format," he told the audience.
Hopkins said later that the company held a private dinner for members in April, for "just family and friends, quality time with each other."
"We think this setting is a little more intimate," he said of the firehouse. "It's a closer environment, where all of our invited guests can be more up close and personal with the people receiving the awards."
Company leaders honored the top fire and EMS responders, auxiliary members who have supported firefighters and EMS workers, members who have given decades of service to the company and members who died in 2015.
Those members include Erik Steciak, 29, a paid paramedic with Bel Air and a captain with the West Friendship Volunteer Fire Department in Howard County. He died Jan. 6, 2015, after he was struck by a Bel Air fire company utility truck at the scene of an earlier accident in the 300 block of Patterson Mill Road.
A person who had been injured in the crash was in a house at the end of a driveway, and officials decided a four-wheel-drive vehicle was the best way to get to the patient. The truck slid on the icy driveway and struck Capt. Steciak.
"This smart kid, just trying to help out, was stolen from us," Chief Rick Davis Jr. said.
Company President Joseph Price said Capt. Steciak's parents "are in our thoughts and prayers ever since that tragic day on Jan. 6 of last year."
Capt. Steciak was the second member of the BAVFC who died in the line of duty since the company's founding in 1890, Price noted.
The first was Edward Hopkins' father, Harry E. Hopkins Jr., who died of a heart attack in 1974 while he was working in the Bel Air firehouse.
Price and two members of the West Friendship company lit a blue candle in Capt. Steciak's memory. The blue color is in honor of EMS workers, Price said.
Company leaders also honored Charles "Charlie" Head, a life member, Carroll Barnes, a former chief, David "Dave" Case Jr., a former fire lieutenant and life member, Ed Kelly Jr., a lifetime member and Roy "Sewell" Matthews, a lifetime member and former captain, all who died in 2015.
Members who died earlier this year, including former Chief Richard "Dick" Woodward, auxiliary member Janie Foard and member Tyler Smith, also were remembered.
2015 a 'very important and busy year'
Price said 2015 was a "very important and busy year" for the Bel Air fire company, typically among Harford County's busiest fire and EMS units.
Company leaders and the community marked the BAVFC's 125th anniversary during the summer.
The company handled 2,308 fire calls, 7,436 EMS calls, and auxiliary members put in 733 hours on emergency calls and company events in 2015.
"The challenges continue, and we will face challenges in the future, no question about it, but it's a partnership between the membership, the board and the officers," Price said.
The top fire responders last year were Davis, who had 1,244 calls; Mark Ensor, 1,066; Mark Johnson, 929; Bill Snyder, 915; Mike Fields, 847; Richard Presberry, 834; Scott McNutt, 806; Jordan Bosse, 774; Ken Ward, 750; Kevin Kadolph, 742; Nick McGowan Jr., 741; Brett Godwin, 734; Adam Siemek, 701; Brian Winchester, 694; Aaron Bellmyer, 656; Tyler Smith, 647; Will Price, 627; Steve Cox, 589; Gary Kadolph, 586 and Evan Anderson, who had 581 calls.
The top EMS responders were Ed Beksinski, who had 248 calls; Denise Collins, 206; James Drake, 201; Jason Langenfelder, 163; Mike Fields, 161; Jim Plumer, 157; Peter Cioloca, 137; Kevin Kadolph, 120; Stephen Brown, 115 and Matthew Miller, who had 105 calls.
Five emergency vehicle drivers were also honored for their commitments, which involves staying in the firehouse so they can be on hand to drive a fire truck or ambulance.
The honorees were Steve Cox, who served 1,280 duty hours, Bill Marshall, 516; Jeff Ey, 474, Paul Chizmar, 312 and Adam Siemek, 306 hours.
Years of service recognized
Members honored for 10 years of service are Laura Crocker, Dylan Baumgardner, James Rainwater, Leigha Reader, Charlie Walls and Jeff Winter.
WendyBelcher, GaryKadolph and KevinKadolph have served 15 years, and SusanFroelich, Todd McKinney and Virginia Holloway are 20-year members.
The 25-year members include Mike Fields, Jeff Ey, Bob Kral, Rich Gardiner, Steve Bittner, Craig Blessing and John Eid.
Walt Holloway, who has served for 40 years, and Richard Presberry, who has served for 45, received proclamations from town, county and state leaders.
Hopkins recognized Holloway, a published author, for his "second passion," chronicling Bel Air and Harford County history.
"Now he's protecting and preserving the history of Harford County," Hopkins said.
Presberry was a firefighter and engine driver. He said he currently helps the company any way he can.
"I'm here to help and support Chief Davis," he said after the ceremony.
Member Greg Sentman earned the Chief's Award from Davis for his efforts to create designs for three fire engines and two ambulances the company purchased last year.
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Davis estimated it takes about 100 hours per unit to create the specs.