Fire company tour highlight of birthday celebration


BILLY RYAN HAS always loved the fire department.

As a child, he begged his parents to take him there to climb on the trucks, flip on the sirens, and talk to firefighters about their adventures.

When his brother became a volunteer firefighter in Abingdon, Ryan couldn't have been more proud. His brother was able to be part of a life that Ryan could only dream of.

Since age 9, and in the 33 years since, Ryanhas dealt with physical disabilities, including spastic quadriplegia.

"He counts on someone for every aspect of living -- from dressing, waking up, toileting, feeding -- he can't even taste food because he is fed through a tube in his stomach," said Linda Warzocha, one of Ryan's instructors at Change Inc., which offers a day program for developmentally disabled adults.

"Yet in all the adversity that he faces daily, his spirit is incredible. He is really cool, especially when he laughs at my jokes," she said.

Ryan's love for the fire department continues to bring him joy. Each day, as he rides in a van from Rosewood Center, a state institution in Owings Mills, he passes Reisterstown Fire Department and smiles. He gets great glee out of persuading the driver, Debbie Leisner, to cruise by the Westminster fire station as well.

For many years, his favorite birthday present has been a tour of the local fire station.

Thursday was Ryan's big day. At 10: 15 a.m., the Change van pulled into the Westminster fire station, and Ryan, 42, got a grand tour and presents galore. Touched by the sight of Ryan carrying his brother's old helmet from the Abingdon company, Jim Bangerd, Westminster fire company president, handed him a new helmet and said, "You've got to add one from Westminster to your collection."

Ryan smiled when he was wheeled into the bay area and saw the rows of engines. In addition to Bangerd, three firemen joined Ryan on his tour -- Bob Schultz, captain, Jay Wallace, assistant chief, and Kevin Utz, lieutenant and public information officer.

"Put me on the truck," Ryan asked them hopefully, and the men hoisted him into the passenger seat of Truck 3.

"Go for a ride?" he asked.

Driver Wayne Staley loaded in Ryan's instructors and assistants and took the engine around the block. Ryan smiled again as he watched the lights flash and listened to the engines.

Thursday's tour took Ryan's parents back to the days when the fire department rescued their son from depression or fear.

"Billy's love for the fire department goes back a long ways, and through some hard times," said his father, William Ryan, a Bel Air resident. "The guys at the Jacksonville Fire Department took a liking to Billy when he was little.

"In fact, there were three volunteer firemen -- Sunny Bosley, Bruce Clark, and his brother -- Billy could probably still come up with their names," William Ryan said. "He became a mascot for them."

In 1967, the left lobes were removed from Billy Ryan's brain to control seizures. The Jacksonville community rallied behind the family during a stressful time that marked the beginning of many years of therapy and, his parents said, the end of his life as a normal child.

The volunteer firefighters knew Ryan had come home from the hospital and that it might be a while before he could come in for a tour, so they took the trucks to Ryan.

"They brought four or five trucks down the street to our house with sirens wailing, and we didn't have to worry about whether or not Billy would be able to walk," said William Ryan. "When he heard the sirens, he ran to the window to see his friends. The fire department is Billy's big thing -- always has been and always will be."

"Taking him on the tour for his birthday is so perfect," said Margaret Gunning, Billy Ryan's mother, who travels every other weekend from Ocean City to visit him.

"He'd spend all his time there if he could. It reminds me of the happy child he used to be."

Foundation logo winners

When Carroll County Heritage Foundation asked local high school students to design its logo, the group got many good entries.

Fifty-one students submitted entries for the contest, which encouraged students to design a logo that best represented the commission's purpose: to "extend, preserve, and promote the heritage of Carroll County for our youth," said Kris Kelly, executive assistant.

Some students used their computers, and others drew their logos freehand.

Judges saw pictures of historic buildings in Carroll, farmlands, log homes, and symbols of family harmony.

Jennifer Moore, a senior at South Carroll High School and the daughter of Jim and Sandy Moore, drew the winning logo, which featured a hand cupped underneath a black-eyed Susan and the American flag.

With her $200 prize money, she said she hopes to take a class in portfolio development and purchase art supplies.

Lisa Breslin's Central Carroll neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

Pub Date: 1/25/99

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