In 1930 the fire company addressed the hose failure and expense situation. The company had no hose tower in which to dry hose when it was wet. This resulted in serious loss of valuable hose due to the inability to properly dry it out. The economics of hose purchase and cost played a part in the decision to add a thirty five foot hose tower to the Main Street station. The construction of the hose tower followed along the lines of the ones erected recently by Baltimore County companies and had a platform constructed on top for the future installation of a siren.
1935 saw the start of the ambulance service in Harford County with the arrival of two State Police ambulances. These ambulances were stationed at the Conowingo and Wilna barracks, neither of which exists today. The primary responsibility of the two ambulances was for transporting patients involved in road accidents, but would respond in any emergency.
In April of 1938 the fire company purchased its first electric siren from the Federal Electric Company in Chicago for five hundred dollars. The siren would replace the fire bell, as that had proven inadequate in recent times when the striking system of the bell had to be changed to relieve vibrations on the courthouse. It was also necessitated by the expanding growth of the town and the fact that more and more members were living father away from the center of the town and the bell could not be heard when ringing. The siren was mounted on top of the firehouse hose tower and under all conditions could be heard within a two mile radius. While under general conditions it may be heard twelve to fifteen miles away. One big change is that with the siren activation for alarms, there would no longer be a distinction between fires within Bel Air and those outside of the town limits. The siren would be programmed to sound seven times within a minute and a half.
In 1939 the threads of the hydrants in Bel Air had become a concern. Apparatus coming into town for a fire had no way to connect to the hydrants as they were not a standard thread. Before they could connect, they had to get a special adapter from the Bel Air apparatus on the scene. An agreement was reached between the Town of Bel Air and the Maryland Water Works Company to retrofit all the fire hydrants with the national thread that was being recommended by the Underwriters Association and was in general use elsewhere. This change would also help reduce fire insurance rates in the business portion of the town.
On August 17, 1939, a meeting was held at the firehouse and the result of this meeting was the formation of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company. Mrs. Katherine King was elected as the first President of the organization. It remained active until World War II. During the war years the women also took up the call to arms and joined the armed services or filled the positions left vacant when the men went to serve the country. This included many new positions created by the war industry. This placed a hardship on the Auxiliary and it became inactive. An attempt was made to reform the Auxiliary in 1947 but the effort failed. In 1950, Mr. Frank L. Hiser, the President of the Fire Company, made another attempt to reform the Auxiliary and this time the effort was successful.
In 1939, the fire company shouldered the responsibility of providing ambulance service and purchased its first ambulance. The unit was a 1938 Continental chassis that had formally been a hearse. The chassis and motor were overhauled in a local Bel Air garage and then the unit was sent to Baltimore to have the custom body equipped with the latest stretcher, first aid kits and other accessories. The unit was placed into service on January 23, 1939. Fourteen firemen underwent first aid training under the instruction of Dr. P.B. Hopkins and these men would staff the unit.
In 1939 the fire company was beginning to feel the effects of the wear and tear on its two pumpers, the 1924 Seagrave and the 1929 GMC American LaFrance. Both these units were experiencing more and more mechanical problems and extended breakdowns. The fire company and the Town of Bel Air had held several conferences with numerous apparatus vendors and on December 26, 1939 the order was placed with the Mack Truck Corporation of Baltimore for a Mack Type 50 Pumper. The pumper was purchased by the Town of Bel Air for the fire company at a cost of approximately six thousand dollars. The pumper was always referred to as “The Little Mack” or ‘Town Truck” due to the fact that it was to remain in town to answer any alarms that were received. It did, however, respond to calls out of town in the event the other pumper is on another call or is out of commission for some reason. The pumper was equipped with a Hale Two Stage Class B 500 GPM pump, 100 gallon booster tank, booster reel of 150 feet of ¾ inch hose mounted in the rear of the unit, 1200 feet of 2 ½ inch hose, a 24 foot wooden extension ladder and a 14 foot wooden roof ladder. It also carried all the necessary appliances and tools. The unit arrived in Bel Air at the end of March 1940 and its first call was on April 1, 1940 at the Farlow Motors Building fire. The unit served the fire company as an active piece of apparatus until February 2, 1972 where its last call would be the Main Street Groundhog Day fire where it served in the capacity of the air unit.
While entertaining demonstrations for the new pumper that the town would purchase, discussions started to be held within the company in reference to acquiring another new pumper to replace both the existing units. At the March 1, 1940, fire company meeting there was much discussion and consideration about the need for a “rural” piece of apparatus. The discussion centered on the age of the present apparatus and the prohibitive cost of rebuilding and outfitting the present unit for rural calls. It was decided to purchase a new fire engine for use in rural communities. On March 5, 1940, the order was placed with the Mack Truck Corporation of Baltimore for a Mack Type 45 Pumper. The cost of the pumper was three thousand eight hundred and seventy five dollars plus the trade in of the 1924 Seagrave Pumper and the 1929 GMC American LaFrance Pumper.
According to Mack Factory Chassis records and the arrival of the engine in Bel Air within 30 days of the order, it is believed that this unit was a demonstrator. The unit saw its first action on April 1, 1940 at the Farlow Motors Building Fire. It is interesting to note that this unit and the 1939 Mack Type 50 arrived in Bel Air within days of each other and both saw their first action at the Farlow Motors Building fire.
The pumper was equipped with a Hale Two Stage Class B 500 GPM pump, 150 gallon booster tank, booster reel of 150 feet of ¾ inch hose, 1200 feet of 2 ½ inch hose, a 24 foot wooden extension ladder and a 14 foot wooden roof ladder. It also carried all the necessary appliances and tools. Within a year of its delivery a steel tank extension was added to the unit to increase the booster tank size to 250 gallons. A 35 foot extension ladder was also added and mounted on a custom “A” frame over the hose bed.
On November 25, 1941, while enroute to Darlington for a fire at the Thomas residence, the unit was involved in an accident at the Hickory intersection when it was run off the road into a tree. The chassis was so badly damaged that the unit had to rechassised. There was one problem with the rechassis as within two weeks the start of America’s involvement in World War II would begin. Because of the start of the war, the federal government would have to authorize Mack to replace the chassis. Authorization was received with the help of Senator Millard Tydings due to the fact that Bel Air’s only other apparatus at the time was the 1940 Mack Type 50 pumper and the fire company was not only serving Bel Air but a large portion of Harford County.
When the apparatus was repaired it technically became a 1942 Mack Type 45, although the 1938 body was reused in the repair. It returned to service at Bel Air on March 28, 1942. It served the fire company until 1947 when it was sold to the Fountaindale Volunteer Fire Department of Adams County, Pennsylvania.
In April of 1941, the Harford County Commissioners took advantage of a recent legislative act and agreed to pay fifteen hundred dollars toward the cost of a new ambulance for the fire company so that it could provide county wide service. The fire company would also trade in the 1938 Continental ambulance toward the cost of the new unit. In early 1941 a Packard Henney ambulance was purchased from the A.G. Geissell Coach Company of Philadelphia for a cost of three thousand eight hundred and eighty five dollars. The ambulance would be equipped with all the modern medical equipment of the time. This unit would see service with the fire company until 1950.
In the early years the fire company was covering a very large percentage of Harford County. The coverage was from Route 1 south to Kingsville; Route 1 north to the Conowingo Dam; Route 22 to Level and Churchville; Route 924 to Route 7 on the south side of Joppa Magnolia, the Big Gunpowder River in Baltimore County, and Rocks Road to Route 165.
Many times, these units responded to sick calls with only the driver responding, praying that a doctor or someone would be at the residence to help. Originally, all automobile accidents were handled by the State Police ambulance. The engine responded on auto accidents but the only tools to be had were a jack, crow bar, sledge hammer and axe.
On October 20, 1941 the fire company received two all-service masks from the Conowingo Power Company. These were filter type masks which could only be used when 15% or more oxygen was present. Resembling military gas masks, they were considered essential equipment of a modern firefighting force. This began the era when firemen could enter burning buildings filled with smoke and gasses.
In late 1941, with the additional purchase of equipment, the fire company was once again in need of bigger quarters. On December 15, 1941, the fire company purchased the old Neuman Ice Cream plant, owned by the Borden Company, which sat directly to the rear of the Main Street firehouse for six thousand eight hundred dollars. At the same time it sold the Main Street fire house and adjoining residence to Louis Hollander of York, Pennsylvania. Part of the sale of the Main Street property reserved the right of the fire company to remove the hose tower. It was decided that the tower would not be disassembled, that it would be moved in its entirety to its new location, one hundred and fifty feet away, at the new fire house. On February 1, 1942, members of the fire company gathered with ropes, pulleys and rollers. Being steadied by ropes, the tower was successfully moved into its new position.