Richard Woodward, a former Bel Air fire chief, remembered as a top leader and instructor

Memorial services for Bel Air's Chief Woodward will be Friday, funeral Saturday

Richard "Dick" Woodward the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company's former fire chief and board president, died Sunday morning, a still-active member with nearly 60 years of service. He was 82.

Chief Woodward joined the fire company in the late 1950s, and he led the organization through decades of change in Harford County's volunteer fire service, as well as large fires that destroyed or damaged local landmarks and caused deaths and injuries to civilians and firefighters.

About 400 to 500 people are expected to attend his viewing, memorial service and funeral Friday and Saturday at the main firehouse at 109 S. Hickory Ave. in Bel Air, according to current Chief Rick Davis.

Viewings are scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, and a memorial service is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday. The funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday.

Davis, 42, said he had known Chief Woodward dating back to when Davis was born. He has spent more than 25 years with Bel Air, and he is the son of a former chief, Rick B. Davis, who died in 2013.

"For the first, probably 15 years of my career, [Chief Woodward] was here, and we were both here every day at the fire house," Davis said Monday.

Davis said he learned about leadership from Chief Woodward, who he said was known for his "command presence."

"When somebody walks in the room, and you know that guy's the leader, that was him," Davis recalled. "He was the type of guy that didn't demand respect, but he was automatically given respect when he walked in the firehouse."

The current chief noted Chief Woodward was "very intelligent," and members of the fire company could always call him and ask questions or discuss problems.

Davis said Chief Woodward cared for the firehouse "like it was his own," and he looked after company finances while serving on the board.

"He took care of our money here to make sure we were prepared for the future," Davis said.

He spent 26 years as a fire company line officer, eight of them as chief, according to Rich Gardiner, spokesperson for the fire company and the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association.

He was elected to the position at different times during the 1970s, '80s and '90s, according to a history posted on the fire company website, http://www.bavfc.org/company_history.php.

He was the officer in charge on a handful of major fires in and around Bel Air during that time. He was in charge on the scene Jan. 30, 1972, when two teenage girls died in an arson fire at Gene's Bar and Grill – now Poe's Bar and Restaurant – in Forest Hill.

While the girls could not be saved, Chief Woodward pulled an injured firefighter out of the building, according to Gardiner.

He was also in charge at the scene of a two-alarm fire at Harford Mall in May of 1984.

The fire started in the parking lot near the former Montgomery Ward store, as workers were melting tar to pave the lot. The fire consumed the tar, vehicles and construction equipment, and it almost set off a nearby 1,000-gallon propane tank.

The heat from the flames caused a relief valve to open on the tank, and the burning fuel coming out was shooting up 40 to 50 feet, according to the company history. Firefighters were able to cool the tank down, and the propane burned itself out.

"If that would have blown, there wouldn't have been any mall left," Snyder said.

Chief Woodward also spent 12 years on the board of directors, six of them as president, according to Gardiner. He handled 23,228 fire calls and 608 EMS calls during his career.

He taught generations of Bel Air firefighters how to drive a fire engine and be a pump operator, drawing water from a fire truck, fire hydrant or a pond and then pumping it through the hoses to the fire, according to Assistant Chief Bill Snyder.

Snyder, who has been with the fire company since 1988, is a former fire chief, and he served as an assistant under Chief Woodward.

Chief Woodward was a driver and pump operator instructor from the mid-1960s until 2004, according to Gardiner.

"From the early '60s, he taught every single engine driver and pump operator in the Bel Air fire department," said Snyder, who was one of Chief Woodward's students.

He trained firefighters from throughout the state as an instructor at the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute. Chief Woodward could also spread the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company's name around the state as a seller of fire trucks, according to Davis.

Snyder said Chief Woodward was a local dealer for the manufacturers of fire apparatus.

Chief Woodward spent at least 10 years as an engine driver after he finished his tenure as fire chief and was one of the top drivers in the company, according to Snyder.

He is survived by his wife of over 60 years, Helen Raab Woodward, and their three children, Rick Woodward, of Hydes; Cindy Woodward Webb, of Clearwater, Fla.; and Christy Woodward Holden, of Forest Hill, and son-in-law W. Brian Holden. Also surviving are their six grandchildren, Greg, Nick and Andrea Woodward; Rachel Webb Keon; and Brian and John Holden. McComas Funeral Home in Bel Air is handling arrangements.

Chief Woodward remained active throughout his time in the company, even helping to put on the BAVFC's 125th anniversary celebration last summer, according to Davis.

"He just brought a lot of professionalism, Snyder recalled. "It's carried a long way and it will definitely continue, because how things are taught now, it's definitely the way he taught us."

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