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Laurel Rescue Squad Chief James Alexander
Laurel Rescue Squad Chief James Alexander (1965 file photo)

Former Laurel Rescue Squad Chief James F. Alexander died Sept. 29 at age 88.

He was a remarkable man and earned his place with pillars of our community who have passed, such as Judge Ogle Marbury, Dr. James McCeney and his brother Bowie (a publisher of the Leader), Mayor Merrill Harrison, Chief Roland Sweitzer, Mayor Leo Wilson and Chief Robby Kaiser to name but a few.

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Jim was a man of vision on a mission. He did what no one had done before. His life of sacrifice and dedication to his fellow man is legendary. He was the founding chief of the Laurel Volunteer Rescue Squad in 1952 and served as chief for 25 years. He broke the "glass ceiling" before anyone recognized there was one. Women played a major role in that storied organization from the very beginning. This would include his wife, his children, his sister and all their friends; couples such as Jake and Barbara Luber, Joe and Joan Robison, Bob and Jean MacCollum were major parts of that family for many years. John Smith was the longtime chairman of the Board. "Regular guys" like Terry Moynihan and many others played a pivotal role in the organization's success.

As hard as it may be to believe now, people actually died on our highways with little or no thought given to medical care or taking the injured for treatment. Jim convinced the Laurel American Legion Post 60 to donate an ambulance. He persuaded Bill Rowles to keep that ambulance at his Amoco station at the corner of Route 1 and Montgomery Street. Calls were answered at someone's home on a rotating basis with the cooperation of the old Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. Volunteers were summoned any way that you could. The system, however rudimentary saved lives and was the foundation for the great system we enjoy today.

I can remember my excitement as a teenager seeing Jim in his chief's car crest the hill, lights flashing, and pick up "helpers" along the way. Now-Councilman Edward Ricks stood that watch frequently, along with my cousin Michael Anderson. We used to make a great deal of noise running out of our home at the corner of Eighth and Montgomery streets to meet the chief. My grandmother complained enough where one night we became very quiet. She did not hear us and decided to get us up. That night at about 3 a.m., Michael and I, along with a tough old lady, took a tumble down the steps together with boots, running coats and hats flying along the way.

Jim led from the front and you would never want to let him down. He even mortgaged his house to secure the purchase of new equipment. He recognized the importance of training and standard operating procedures, especially in an emergency. He knew from experience how important this was. Whether a train, plane or a bus accident, or routine emergency, Jim knew what to do and how to do it. He had done it all. Like Fred Frederick, he knew how to operate everything in his shop whether mechanical, electrical, hydraulic or electronic, and just as important, how to fix it. Stuff like that broke a lot.

His commitment to the community was more than 25 years of service as chief of the Rescue Squad. He was the chair of Laurel's 100th anniversary in 1970 while I was away in the service. I understand it was an event befitting 100 years of our progress as a city.

He developed an international reputation for his knowledge of public safety and emergency care. He campaigned hard for what we take for granted today. The quick response of the "medic units" in our county is but an example. He was a volunteer in the truest sense of the word and the reward was satisfaction. He recognized that change would come as society changed. He prepared for it and understood it. While fundraising then was bake sales, door-to-door solicitations or carnivals, the cost of public safety today is staggering.

We are fortunate that public safety has almost always been a priority in Laurel. We were always the first to acquire or even just try the newest technology. From the old "iron heart" to the cameras in use by the Police Department today, we have stayed on the cutting edge of a technology revolution.

But in the end it is all about leadership. He was a leader you meet maybe once in a life time and he was ours. His heart and soul were all in the right place: Laurel.

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