The 1970’s would see more changes in the fire company. The call volume for both fire and EMS continued to increase. The fire company acquired its first aerial ladder truck. A new fire house was built in the Forest Hill community and the level of care on the EMS side grew tremendously with the introduction of advanced certifications; such as, the Cardiac Rescue Technician (CRT) Program.
The Town of Bel Air was making national news in March of 1970. Mr. H. Rap Brown was to be tried in the Harford County Courthouse for inciting riots in Cambridge, Maryland. Tension mounted as the trial date drew closer – police were everywhere. Officers and members of the fire company guarded the fire house both day and night and additional officers had to be appointed. The tension peaked on March 23, 1970, when a car exploded on Route 1 near Tollgate road, killing two men. It was believed that the bomb (which went off prematurely) was intended for the court house. Eventually the trial was moved to another county.
The fire company purchased in December of 1969 a Cadillac Miller-Meteor “Volunteer” model ambulance. The ambulance would be equipped with all the modern medical equipment of the time. The ambulance was delivered to Bel Air in March of 1970 and placed into service on March 18, 1970.
In 1970 the fire company decided it needed to get into the aerial ladder business. It was decided to purchase a used aerial and keep it for several years to learn the dynamics, etc., of operating an aerial ladder unit while detailed specifications were being written for a new unit. On October 6, 1970, the fire company purchased a 1951 Maxim 85 foot aerial ladder truck from the Jenkintown Fire Department. When the truck reached Bel Air some immediate changes were made; such as, removing a booster reel and installing a 5000 watt Onan generator, adding smoke ejectors and replacing the 35 foot and 50 foot extension ladders, which were wood, with a 35 foot and a 45 foot Alco-Lite aluminum extension ladder. The unit was equipped with a PTO driven booster pump, a 150 gallon booster tank, two booster reels each with 150 feet of ¾ inch hose. One of the booster reels was removed for the generator placement. The unit also had a small hose bed for several hundred feet of 3 inch hose for the ladder pipe. The unit carried the following extension ladders – a 45 and a 35 foot. It carried the following straight ladders – a 28 foot, a 24 foot, a 20 foot and a 16 foot. It also carried a 14 foot roof ladder, a 14 foot “A” frame ladder, and 2 10 foot folding ladders. The unit carried all the standard tools of a truck company; such as, axes, hooks, halligan bars, smoke ejectors, rope, extinguishers, various tips for the ladder pipe, etc. The truck went in service in December of 1970 and answered its first alarm on December 24, 1970. The alarm was for an ambulance assist to remove a patient from behind the door. Access could only be made through the second floor window.
On January 14, 1970, in subfreezing temperatures, the fire company received an alert for an apartment fire at the Hickory Hills Apartment complex. The apartment buildings were still under construction and were not occupied. Twelve apartment units were completely destroyed. Due to fire walls and quick action of the company, a third section of apartments was not damaged. Unfortunately, for the fire company, both the front and left doors of the cab of the 1967 Seagrave were severely damaged by radiant heat.
On a snowy, cold morning on February 1, 1971, the Western Auto Store located on Main Street in Bel Air caught fire. Fire officials blamed a faulty lighting fixture for the $90,000 blaze that destroyed the building. Over 60 firefighters responded to the three alarms with equipment from the Bel Air, Jarrettsville, Abingdon, Level and Joppa-Magnolia fire companies at the scene. Subzero temperatures hampered the efforts of the firefighters. The water froze and Main Street became a sheet of ice. Equipment on the engines also froze. It took 2 ½ hours to bring the fire under control.
In 1970 the fire company replaced the old brush truck with a new one. This unit was built by fire company members in 1970. The unit was designed as a brush truck and as a winch vehicle on rescues. A one ton 4 x 4 chassis was purchased in May of 1970 from Hickory International of Bel Air. Because International did not make a one ton wide side pickup at the time, the chassis and a wide side body were ordered separately and Hickory International mounted the body on the chassis. They also added high floatation tires and a PTO driven 12,000 lb winch mounted on a front bumper extension. Once it arrived, the fire company members installed a slide in fiberglass 200 gallon tank, a 35 GPM pump, an electric rewind booster reel with 300 feet of ¾ inch booster hose, a three person bench seat behind the tank, and all the emergency lights, siren and air horn. The unit carried the standard tools; such as, axes, brush rakes, and Indian tanks. The unit was placed in service on March 1, 1971. Its first alarm was on March 2, 1971, for a field and woods fire at the intersection of Route 1 and Old Jarrettsville Road in Hickory. The unit is still in service with the fire company as one of two brush units. It is currently housed at the Forest Hill Station.
On January 30, 1972, a tragic fire occurred at Gene’s Bar and Grill on Old Jarrettsville Road in Cooptown. Three Bel Air firemen were injured attempting to rescue two teenage girls who were trapped in the building. Their attempts were futile and the girls’ bodies were later recovered under the debris where they had been trapped. Three firemen, James Foard, Mel Kulis and Steve Cox received burns that sent them to the hospital.
Shortly, thereafter, on a snowy morning of February 2, 1972, Bel Air responded to one of the largest fires in the history of the fire company. Sixty one members from Bel Air, along with 164 other firefighters from mutual aid companies fought the downtown blaze that resulted in $2 million dollars worth of damage.
The fire was started by a ruptured fuel oil tank in the back room of the Red Fox Restaurant. Eleven fire companies battled the raging fire for four hours before bringing it under control. The following is a list of losses which resulted from the fire.
Mayor James O’Neill, discussing at the time all the firemen and units on the scene said, “The orderly manner with which the units were displaced around the conflagration and the close cooperation among them, no doubt, saved the rest of the downtown businesses.”
The fire company purchased in April of 1972 a Cadillac Miller-Meteor “Volunteer” model ambulance. The ambulance would be equipped with all the modern medical equipment of the time. The ambulance was delivered to Bel Air in March of 1972 and placed into service on April 1, 1972.
With the number of apparatus growing, the fire company was once again in need of space. The company discussed what could be done and finally decided on expanding the firehouse by adding a rear three bay addition. All the necessary permits having been obtained and the necessary contracts signed, the fire company broke ground on April 3, 1973, on the addition. On April 23, 1973 the Town of Bel Air released the yearly budget. It contained forty five thousand dollar expenditure to the fire company to pay for the construction of the rear bay addition. By late September of 1973 the rear bay addition was complete and the dedication was in conjunction with the annual Fire Prevention Open House on October 7, 1973.
July of 1972 saw the county fire company’s change from a two digit apparatus numbering system to the three digit numbering system still used today.
November of 1972 saw the county fire companies exploring the use of phantom box cards for dispatching apparatus. After months of preparation and planning the box card system was placed in service in December of 1973. No longer would the Officer in charge of the scene have to call for individual units for assistance, they could now call for the next “alarm” assignment!
In February of 1971 a committee was appointed to develop specifications and request bids for a new pumper. After receiving and reviewing all the bids, on February 1, 1972, the fire company signed a contract with Fire Equipment Supply Company for another new Seagrave Model PB 1000 pumper. The pumper would have several changes from the previous two Seagrave pumpers the company had recently purchased. It had a “P” style cab as Seagrave had stopped making the “K” style and it had a diesel engine. The pumper was equipped with a Detroit Diesel 8V71 engine, Jacobs engine brake, Spicer 5 speed transmission, Seagrave 2 stage centrifugal 1000 GPM pump, 600 gallon booster tank, 3.2 KW generator, a potable monitor mounted over the pump that was supplied by a short section of 3 inch hose when mounted on the pumper, a hose bed that contained 1600 feet of 3 inch hose that was divided in half for two 800 foot lays, two 1 ½ preconnects of 150 feet and 200 feet with spare hose and a 100 feet of 2 ½ with nozzle, but not preconnected. In addition, the pumper carried an aluminum 35 foot extension ladder, an aluminum 14 foot roof ladder and a 10 foot folding ladder. The standard complement of tools, hooks, extinguishers, smoke ejectors, hand lights and appliances were also carried. The pumper was inspected at the factory by members of the engine committee on September 24, 1973, and then driven back to Bel Air. The pumper was placed in service on October 14, 1973, and answered its first alarm on October 22, 1973, for a dwelling fire on Fallston Road.
While firefighting technology steadily advanced in the 1970’s, it jumped by leaps and bounds on the emergency medical side. Formerly all the first aid courses were given by the American Red Cross. The first advanced training introduced to Harford County was the Emergency Medical Technician Course, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and administered by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene of the State of Maryland. Later, this course was taught by the Maryland Fire and rescue Institute. In 1976 the first Intravenous Injection course was taught at the Kirk Army Hospital located on the Aberdeen Proving Ground installation. This was preceded by a Cardiac Rescue Technician Course (CRT), introduced by the State of Maryland, and taught in Havre De Grace in 1974. When this course was started, the state did not think volunteers could be trained in advanced life procedures. Not only did the new pupils pass the exam, they also became, ultimately, some of the best CRTs licensed in the State of Maryland.
In December of 1974, Bel Air graduated three CRT’s; Kenneth Atwell, Donald Holmes (who later became a CRT instructor) and Richard Woodward.
In 1977 ambulance personnel were trained in the use of esophageal airways and in 1978 they were taught how to use Medical Anti Shock Trousers (MAST).
The fire company purchased in May of 1973 an Oldsmobile Cotner Bevington “Volunteer” model ambulance. The ambulance would be equipped with all the modern medical equipment of the time. The ambulance was delivered to Bel Air in May of 1973 and placed into service on June 1, 1973. This unit was sold to the Darlington Volunteer Fire Company in April of 1976 after their ambulance had been involved in an accident.
The fire company purchased in January of 1974 a Cadillac Miller-Meteor “Criterion” model ambulance. The ambulance would be equipped with all the modern medical equipment of the time. The ambulance was delivered to Bel Air in June of 1974 and placed into service on July 6, 1974.
In 1974 the company decided to purchase a new air unit \ emergency support unit. This unit was purchased in September of 1973 and outfitted with six 200 cubic inch cylinders for an air cascade system. The unit also served as a backup ambulance and was equipped with cabinetry for medical supplies. It had a squad bench for the transport of patients. The unit was placed in service in February of 1974. It answered its first alarm on February 17, 1974, for a three alarm house fire on Route 440 in the Dublin area of Harford County. When the temporary fire house was opened in 1976 in Forest Hill, this unit was relocated to that station so that the fire company members who resided in that area could respond to fires.
1973 saw the Forest Hill community show interest in a fire house in their community. In May of 1973 a meeting was held with the Forest Hill residents. From that meeting, it was decided that the current residents who were interested would join the company, receive training and be active members and the fire company would look into placing a fire house in the community; as long as, the membership would support it. A membership drive was also started in the area to further gain members who lived in that area. Membership in the fire company from that area continued to grow. In 1975 the officers of the fire company reported to the Board of Directors that they fully supported the idea of a Forest Hill station. A meeting was held with the Forest Hill Association to discuss the plans for a station in the community. A temporary location for a station was found in a small building on the Hicks property at the intersection of Route 24 and Old Jarrettsville Road, while the fire company looked for land to acquire on which to build a permanent fire house.
In 1974, Ms. Pamela MacLean submitted her application to the membership committee of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company. Known as a progressive fire company, Bel Air accepted Pam, its first female, into membership in September 1974. She was only 16 years of age, but desperately wanted to ride the fire equipment and be a firefighter. Today, over 40 years later, we find Pam is a lifetime member with Bel Air, and a retired career firefighter for the Baltimore County Fire Department. Pam retired from Baltimore County having achieved the rank of Fire Captain in that department.
Today, there are many women who serve the fire company both as firefighters and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers.
The fire company purchased in August of 1975 a Chevrolet Horton Type I “Model 400” ambulance. A federal grant of seven thousand five hundred dollars was obtained toward the cost of the ambulance. There had been much discussion about this unit and the type of body that the fire company would approve. The company approved the first “box type” body in the fire company. The ambulance would be equipped with all the modern medical equipment of the time. The ambulance was delivered to Bel Air in December of 1975 and placed into service on January 12, 1976.
In January of 1976 the fire company placed Air 361 (an emergency support unit) in service at the station in Forest Hill. The membership drive would continue and more and more area residents were joining. In March of 1977, the fire company had to relocate the Forest Hill Station location to the Forest Hill Airpark as the previous property had been sold. At the airpark, the fire company rented a hanger and turned it into a fire house, albeit temporary. In May of 1977, the fire company moved the 1948 Mack to the Forest Hill station and placed it in service, and this would be followed by the 1969 Seagrave in September of 1977.
In early 1978 a piece of property on East Jarrettsville Road was generously donated by Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Klein, well known proprietors and residents of Forest Hill. October of 1978 saw the groundbreaking for the Forest Hill Station and on September 1, 1979, it officially completed and opened. It would not be dedicated until the October 28, 1979.
In 1974 the fire company started writing specifications for a new ladder truck. For several years prior to 1974 the fire company had owned and operated a 1951 Maxim aerial ladder with the express intent of learning the dynamics, etc., of operating an aerial ladder unit while detailed specifications were being written for a new unit. The truck committee spent many hours writing specifications and requesting bids. In February of 1974, the fire company placed an order for a new aerial tower with Fire Equipment Supply Company. The chassis was built by Seagrave Fire Apparatus in June of 1975 and then the unit was sent to LTI (Ladder Towers, Inc.) to have the 85 foot ladder built and installed. After this the unit was sent back to Clintonville Fire Apparatus of Clintonville, Wisconsin, to have the custom body installed and the unit finished for delivery. The unit was equipped with an “S” style Seagrave cab, a Detroit Diesel 8V71 engine and Allison HT740 automatic transmission. The unit had an 85 foot aerial tower with a unique outrigger system originally designed by Grove Crane Company. The outrigger system consisted of four outriggers that extended out and down. This configuration allowed for more full stability and capacity in every direction and angle with the ladder and platform. This configuration could not be done with a conventional ladder truck. The unit carried the following aluminum ladders – a 45 foot 2 section extension ladder with poles, a 35 foot 3 section extension ladder, a 28 foot 2 section extension ladder, a 24 foot 2 section extension ladder. It carried the following aluminum ladders – an 18 foot straight roof ladder, a 14 foot straight roof ladder, a 10 foot folding ladder, an 8 foot folding ladder and a 14 foot “A” frame ladder.
The unit carried all the standard tools of a truck company such as axes, hooks, halligan bars, smoke ejectors, rope, extinguishers, various tips for the ladder pipe, etc. The unit also carried some special devices, explosives, called Jet-Axe. The Jet-Axe, a very real product made by a company called Explosive Technology and was intended for use to punch precise holes in walls, doors, and other obstacles. Instead of using a normal axe to try to smash through a steel garage door, for example, firefighters could hang the Jet-Axe–which was essentially a packaged explosive–on the door and trigger an explosion to punch a rectangular or circular hole. These holes would be used for ventilation of hazardous fumes or for forcible entry into buildings. These devices were never used by the fire company and after years of being on the apparatus, they were taken out of service and given to the State Fire Marshall for disposal. The truck went in service in June of 1976 and answered its first alarm on June 20, 1976. The alarm was for a dwelling fire on West Riding Drive in the West Riding development south of town. The truck ran its last alarm for Bel Air on June 16, 1989 for a dwelling fire on Stonewall Lane south of Bel Air.
In June of 1976 the fire company accepted the engine committee’s recommendation and accepted a bid from Fire Equipment Supply Company for a new Seagrave pumper. The pumper would have a major change from the previous three Seagrave pumpers the company had recently purchased. It would have a longer than standard wheelbase with longer than standard front body compartments. This design change was made because the unit was going to be used primarily for automobile accident and rescue assignments. The extra compartment room allowed for extra rescue tools and gear to be carried, along with all the equipment that still made it a Class A pumper for fires. The pumper was equipped with a Detroit Diesel 8V71 engine, Jacobs engine brake, Allison HT 740 automatic transmission, Waterous 2 stage 1250 GPM CMYC pump, 600 gallon booster tank, 2 20 gallon foam tanks, Winco 4.5 KW generator, a potable monitor mounted over the pump that was supplied by a short section of 3 inch hose when mounted on the pumper, a hose bed that contained 1600 feet of 3 inch hose that was divided in half for two 800 foot lays, two 1 ½ preconnects of 150 feet and 200 feet with spare hose and a 100 feet of 2 ½ with nozzle, but not preconnected. In addition, the pumper carried an aluminum 3 section 35 foot extension ladder, an aluminum 14 foot roof ladder and a 10 foot folding ladder.
The standard complement of tools, hooks, extinguishers, smoke ejectors, hand lights and appliances were also carried. The pumper \squad was also equipped with a full complement of rescue tools. It was outfitted with an electrically powered hydraulic HURST Rescue Tool, a 10 ton Porta-A-Power, Stokes basket, a line throwing gun, ropes and rigging, high and low pressure air chisels, high pressure air bags, chains, hooks, adapters, jacks, cribbing and a complement of EMS gear such as an IV kit, trauma bags, orthopedic stretcher, splints, and portable oxygen. The pumper was inspected at the factory by members of the engine committee in April of 1977 before being delivered to Bel Air. Once in Bel Air, the unit was outfitted and was placed in service n July 5, 1977. The pumper answered its first alarm on July 6, 1977 for an automobile accident on Route 22 at Bynum Run.
In 1978 the officers of the company created the position of Sergeant. The new position would be inserted into the company rank structure between Apparatus Driver and senior firefighter. The first Sergeants in the fire company were Richard Davis, Sr. and Mark Warble.
In September of 1978, the adjacent house and property located on the corner of Churchville Road and Hickory Avenue was purchased. The existing house on the property would be demolished and the lot used as an auxiliary parking lot.
The fire company purchased in September of 1977 a Chevrolet Horton Type I “Model 450” ambulance. The ambulance would be equipped with all the modern medical equipment of the time. The ambulance was delivered to Bel Air in December of 1977 and placed into service on January 1, 1978.
In June of 1977 the fire company accepted the engine committee’s recommendation and accepted a bid from Fire Equipment Supply Company for a new Seagrave pumper. The pumper would have the same specifications as the 1976 Seagrave with the exception of the extra high side compartments being removed and a diesel generator being added above the pump area instead of in a compartment. The pumper was equipped with a Detroit Diesel 8V71 engine, Jacobs engine brake, Allison HT 740 automatic transmission, Waterous 2 stage 1250 GPM CMYC pump, 600 gallon booster tank, 2 20 gallon foam tanks, Onan 6 KW diesel generator, a potable monitor mounted over the pump that was supplied by a short section of 3 inch hose when mounted on the pumper, a hose bed that contained 1600 feet of 3 inch hose that was divided in half for two 800 foot lays, two 1 ½ preconnects of 150 feet and 200 feet with spare hose and a 100 feet of 2 ½ with nozzle, but not preconnected. In addition the pumper carried an aluminum 3 section 35 foot extension ladder, an aluminum 14 foot roof ladder and a 10 foot folding ladder. The standard complement of tools, hooks, extinguishers, smoke ejectors, hand lights and appliances were also carried. The pumper was inspected at the factory by members of the engine committee in January of 1979 before being delivered to Bel Air. Once in Bel Air, the unit was outfitted and was placed in service on March 28, 1979. The pumper answered its first alarm on March 28, 1979 for a chimney fire on Shelburne Road. It ran its last alarm on May 6, 1993 for an automatic alarm on Jessica’s Court in Bel Air.
The end of the decade found the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company in excellent condition, under very capable leadership, and with a well-trained and dedicated membership. Since fire calls and ambulance trips had increased, along with the necessity of more hours spent in training classes and drills, the weekly BINGO games were ended. The Board of Directors would now have the difficult task of finding other sources to generate more income for the fire company.