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Longtime Aberdeen Fire Department volunteer, Aberdeen Police Department dispatcher Judy Hinch dies

Judy Hinch, who spent 40 years as a volunteer with Aberdeen Fire Department and in 2017 published a book with some of her more memorable calls, died Sunday.
Judy Hinch, who spent 40 years as a volunteer with Aberdeen Fire Department and in 2017 published a book with some of her more memorable calls, died Sunday. (MATT BUTTON/Aegis file)

Mike Bennett, former Aberdeen mayor and fire chief, said Judy Hinch was a ”very opinionated, strong lady.” But she had to be, he said, as the first female firefighter in Aberdeen.

“She had to make her own way, she had to prove herself, which she did, quite capably,” Bennett said.

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Judith S. Hinch, known as “Judy,” a longtime member of the Aberdeen Fire Department who also worked for the police department and at city hall, died Sunday, according to the fire department.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Ms. Judy Hinch, active lifetime member and current Secretary of the Board Directors, this evening on February 24th, 2019. On behalf of the Officers and Members of the Aberdeen Fire Department, we ask that you please keep the Hinch family and all of the members of our department in your thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time,” the fire department posted on its Facebook page at about 8 p.m. Sunday. “RIP Judy Hinch. We love you!”

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Mrs. Hinch, 71, had volunteered for Aberdeen Police Department since 1975, when she became the first female firefighter of the department. She was Fireman of the Year in 1976.

“Judy had a heart of gold, but there were times she could make you want to go screaming into the night,” Bennett said.

Mrs. Hinch and the Bennetts — Mike and his wife Elaine — were neighbors for more than 30 years across from the fire department.

Mrs. Hinch stayed with the Bennetts for two months after her leg was amputated last year, Mike Bennett said, and Elaine and Judy were quite close. The Bennetts are godparents to Mrs. Hinch’s son, Stevie Hinch Jr.

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“And Judy would often walk in our house when she couldn’t find Stevie,” he said.

Hinch Jr. said he couldn’t put his mother into words, but he tried.

For years, Judy Hinch was the voice of Aberdeen Police Department, answering calls and dispatching officers. These days, she answering the phones at City Hall,

“She was the most selfless person I’ve ever met in my life. She would put anybody or anything ahead of herself. It didn’t matter if she didn’t like them or not,” he said. “They could have been as mean as they could to her and five minutes later, were asking her for something, and she would have done what they needed, tenfold.

“She just gave so much,” he said.

His mother was the Aberdeen Fire Department, Hinch said. Anytime someone needed something, they went to Mrs. Hinch, who served as a firefighter, EMT, paramedic and secretary.

He’s proud to know his mom was the first female firefighter in Aberdeen.

“She broke the gender barrier, proved you didn’t have to be a guy to do it,” Hinch said. “She got a lot of pushback, there were horror stories of how they treated her. But she kept her head down and kept going. She didn’t care, it was something she wanted to do because she knew it would help the community. She didn’t let anybody stand in her way.”

City officials remembered Mrs. Hinch during Monday’s Aberdeen City Council meeting. City Manager Randy Robertson asked for a minute of silence to honor her.

Robertson, who has been with the local government since the summer of 2016, said he knew Mrs. Hinch through her service at the front desk of City Hall – she had been rehired for that position after retiring as a police dispatcher.

Robertson said Mrs. Hinch was “basically the go-to person for the city,” telling residents “here’s how we can help you, here’s how we can’t.”

“If you’ve ever seen the front of City Hall on a trash or a water billing day, you know how instrumental Judy Hinch was,” Robertson said.

The city manager noted that, working in local government, one hears complaints more often than praise, but he said that “all I could find was compliments,” going back to 1997, when he reviewed Mrs. Hinch’s personnel file Monday.

When Bennett Smith was chief of the department, Mrs. Hinch was his ambulance captain for eight years and was instrumental in keeping the EMS department operating, he said. She was a good instructor and made sure members kept up with their classes.

She had grown to become a paramedic after proving that she could be a firefighter, Smith said.

“She did a tremendous job,” he said.

He, too, said Mrs. Hinch wore her heart on her sleeve.

“You knew what she was thinking, what she felt about things and how much she cared about people,” said Smith, a member of the department for 63 years.

Longtime Aberdeen Fire Department volunteer Judy Hinch, shown in 2013 when she was honored as the company's top EMS responder, died Sunday evening.
Longtime Aberdeen Fire Department volunteer Judy Hinch, shown in 2013 when she was honored as the company's top EMS responder, died Sunday evening. (David Anderson/Aegis file)

Mrs. Hinch was also the neighborhood animal caretaker and was likely to invite other pets into her house to eat, Bennett said.

Smith said there wasn’t an animal around she didn’t try to feed, and she often paid to get cats and dogs spayed and neutered.

In addition to working for the police department and as a receptionist at city hall, she volunteered with a number of community organizations, including the Aberdeen Heritage Trust and Grace United Methodist Church — assisting with its Wednesday night dinners for the homeless or indigent.

Mrs. Hinch took care of others better than she did herself, Bennett said, and she never saw a person she didn’t try to help.

“I remember countless times she’d reach into her pocket for a dollar, two dollars to give someone,” Bennett said.

Mrs. Hinch wrote a book in 2017 titled “Cracks in My Heart: Forty Years as a Volunteer in Aberdeen,” in which she shares some of her more memorable calls as well as her background.

She was working on a second book, she said then, and it was going to be a “tell all” about the “most unforgettable characters” in her life, Bennett said. He and Mrs. Hinch’s son joked and made a pact that they would find that manuscript so it was never printed.

Mrs. Hinch was born in Lawrence, Kansas, to the late Vernon C. and Mildred Smith Scott. She graduated from college in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in education with training in physical education, English and biological sciences. She got married, then moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where her new husband was working on his master’s degree at University of Virginia, Mrs. Hinch said in an interview in August 2017 about her book.

In ROTC, he was stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground and the couple moved to Aberdeen. They got divorced a year later, but Mrs. Hinch never went anywhere else.

The chief of Aberdeen Fire Department asked her if she would consider joining the department, which had just begun admitting women as firefighters. She passed the test and became the first female firefighter in the Aberdeen Fire Department.

As a member, she also “really, really, really” wanted to be a paramedic. So she became an EMT, then paramedic, and worked at Kirk Army Health Clinic on post, working her way up to supervisor.

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She married a man she met at the fire department, Steve Hinch, whom she later divorced.

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They had a son, Stevie, who lives with his family in Aberdeen. As members of the fire department (Steve Hinch is the chief) and grandparents to a young boy, Jackson, Steve and Mrs. Hinch learned to work together.

Mrs. Hinch let her paramedic certification lapse when she was in her 50s. She said it was too much to keep up with, but she remained an EMT for the department until her health began to fail.

She was a dispatcher for Aberdeen Police Department for 18 years, retiring in 2011. She still worked in the mornings at the front desk at City Hall, and also taught CPR to individuals and groups when requested.

Mrs. Hinch was an instructor for the University of MD-MD Fire and Rescue Institute, where she taught first responder, EMT and hazmat classes and also taught for MIEMSS since 1977. She served as EMS chair for Harford County several years and during the 1980s she served on the MSFA Training Committee.

She had previously worked at APG as a paramedic and also Baltimore City Medic 7. She was a safety director at Noxell Corp (now Proctor & Gamble) and Church Hospital; she was both a field supervisor and safety manager at Lockjoint.

Mrs. Hinch said she volunteered because it was the way she was raised. Her father was a Lions Club member, and she and her mother would often take on projects for the club at a time when women couldn't be members.

“It gives so much more back. When someone comes up to me a year later and says ‘thank you for taking care of me,’ it just feeds you,” she said, “and it makes me who I am. So sometimes it's kind of selfish, because it makes me feel good.”

Mrs. Hinch is survived by her son, Steven S. Hinch of Aberdeen; daughter-in-law, Christina Hinch, and grandson, Jackson P.K. Hinch; and a half-sister, Sharon Slusser.

Visitation will be held Friday from 6 to 10 p.m. and Saturday, March 2 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with a service to follow at the Aberdeen Fire Department.

Contributions may be made to Defenders of Animal Rights Inc., 14412 Old York Road, Phoenix, MD 21131 or to the Chesapeake Feline Association, aka PAWS, Perryville.

Staff reporter David Anderson contributed to this article.

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