The 1980’s brought more changes to the fire company; ladies bunk rooms and showers, five inch hose, advanced rescue tools and special protective equipment to name a few.
On Friday, May 16, 1980, the fire company was alerted for a vehicle accident involving a school bus. The incident took place near the Maryland Golf and Country Club on MacPhail Road. Twenty-three Bel Air High School students were injured when the school bus slammed into a tree and overturned. Assistance was provided by four mutual aid fire companies, 58 law enforcement officers, six ambulances and three medivac helicopters. One student later died from injuries received. The incident was handled professionally by both Bel Air and other mutual-aid companies, partly owing to the fact that county-wide drills on disasters are held annually.
In December of 1979 the fire company voted to purchase a third ambulance. The intent was to place an ambulance in service at the Forest Hill Station. In March of 1980, a committee was appointed to acquire a new ambulance. In November of 1980, the fire company approved the purchase of a 1981 Ford Yankee Coach Type III 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 1981 and placed into service in July of 1981. Bel Air was now the only company in Harford County to operate three ambulances.
In January 1982, the adjacent house and property located at 112 Churchville Road was purchased from Charles Lutz. The rooms in the house were converted into office space. The building was primarily used as offices for the Board of Directors and as a conference room.
In early 1981 the fire company started looking into the replacement of the 1960’s era Seagraves. The 1967 Seagrave was due for replacement that year and the 1969 Seagrave would be due the following year. In November of 1981 the committee was entertaining the idea of replacing both pumpers at the same time. In February of 1982 the committee came before the company with the bids and its recommendation that we buy two pumpers. The committee felt that since the second pumper was due for replacement in a year, that it made sense to purchase two now at a lower cost and also the fact that the older two pumpers had gasoline engines that were showing a lot of wear and tear. There was much discussion but the company accepted the engine committee’s recommendation and accepted a bid from Fire Equipment Supply Company for 2 new Seagrave pumpers. They were delivered in late 1983 and placed in service in April of 1983.
The fire company purchased in May of 1983 a Ford Horton Type III ambulance. The ambulance would be equipped with all the modern medical equipment of the time. The ambulance was delivered to Bel Air in October of 1983 and placed into service on November 1, 1983.
The largest potential disaster ever averted by the fire company occurred May 22, 1984, at 5 p.m. The incident took place adjacent to the south side of the Montgomery Ward’s store at the Harford Mall. The original alert was for construction equipment on fire, and subsequent additional information stated that a propane tank was burning. Arriving at the scene, Engine 314 discovered a fire involving a tar pot, a spreading pool of molten burning tar flowing over the parking lot, and worst of all, a 1,000 gallon tank of liquid Propane Gas (LPG) which was surrounded by fire. Pressure built up in the LPG tank from the heat and caused the pressure relief valve to operate. It had been operating for 3 to 4 minutes prior to the arrival of the fire department.
A second alarm was requested by Chief Woodward. The initial attack crew was confronted with intense heat, heavy black smoke, burning vehicles, and flames from the propane tank’s relief valve shooting flames 40 to 50 feet into the air. Hand lines and a master stream were put into service which succeeded in cooling the area while the crews carefully avoided the flames from the relief valve. The master stream extinguished the burning tar and many of the burning vehicles. Not until a second and third master stream were put into service with hand lines could the large tank sufficiently be cooled down. Firefighters continued the cooling operation, opting to let the tank burn itself out. The initial damage was set at $40,000. Had the propane tank not been cooled by the firefighters, many people could have died or suffered serious injuries in the resulting rupture and explosions, with damage possible reaching $10 million. Montgomery Ward was open for business the next day!
The fire company purchased in January of 1984 a Ford Horton Type III ambulance. The ambulance would be equipped with all the modern medical equipment of the time. The ambulance was delivered to Bel Air in August 1984 and placed into service in September of 1984.
In 1985 the fire company decided to purchase a new air unit and a committee was appointed. In February of 1986, after specifications had been written and bids received, the company accepted the committee recommendation and purchased Ford Econoline E350 chassis with a Reading Utility Body. The air system would be an eight bottle cascade system.
The unit was placed in service in February of 1987. It answered its first alarm on February 26, 1987 for a dwelling fire on Aster Lane, just north of Bel Air. This unit would undergo upgrades to its system in April of 1995. The upgrades would take several months. It would answer its last call on January 12, 2014 for a medical assist on Emmorton Road. The unit was retired on March 3, 2014, and sold on May 1, 2014, to Redaye Enterprises of Boyerstown, Pennsylvania.
On July 17, 1985, a warm Wednesday morning, a large explosion occurred at the home of a prominent physician. The arriving Bel Air units found the house fully involved in flames, allegedly caused by a gasoline leak. The owners of the house were found on the front lawn, severely burned. Both were sent to the Francis Scott Key Burn Center by medivac helicopter, and eventually recovered after a long and arduous recuperation. The house was completely destroyed.
March of 1985 saw the fire company looking into different plans to address the needs for more space, as the current space was inadequate to meet the fire company’s needs. In August of 1985 a special company meeting was held and a building committee appointed. The committee was tasked with reporting back to the company with a plan for the renovation of the current fire station.
In February of 1986 the company approved the building committee’s four part plan to improve the present building. The improvements recommended would provide better training facilities, accommodate a new ladder truck, and build an addition to include bunk rooms, bathrooms, laundry room, and office space. The corner property and the adjoining property on Churchville Road were incorporated into the plans.
In September 1987, with the town band playing, balloons flying and our local dignitaries present, dedication services were held at the fire station. Later a dinner was held for our members as a way of thanking them for all their support.
The fire company purchased in June of 1986 a Ford Horton Type III “Model 501” ambulance. The ambulance would be equipped with all the modern medical equipment of the time. The ambulance was delivered to Bel Air in October of 1986 and placed into service in December of 1986. This would be the last gasoline ambulance the fire company would buy.
The Motorola Pager system was implemented in Harford County in 1986, at the cost of over a million dollars. Bel Air initially received ninety-two pagers and they were given to the most active members. Eventually two-way portable radios were issued to each company in Harford County to be put on every piece of equipment. Fire ground operations ran more efficiently due to the advent of these radios. The system was not without fault. Occasionally one could hear “Wheel of Fortune,” “Jeopardy” and the baseball games over the airwaves.
During the summer of 1988, there was a most unusual fire call. The original alert was a “Transformer explosion with CPR Assist.” The place: Moores Mill Road near Broadway. The first unit to arrive on the scene found, to their relief, that, miraculously, the man in the bucket of the utility truck had escaped injury. A transformer was lighting up the area every few minutes and its fire would run up and down the wires on Moores Mill Road.
Very shortly afterward, transformers all over the nearby developments were burning. The officer in charge called for additional alarms and units from all over the county responded. Firemen left work to help with the serious situation, and the EMS people were busy helping neighbors with the “welder’s eyes” they had received from watching the bright electrical arcs on the power lines. One house caught fire and many homes had such strong surges of current that their appliances were ruined. Luckily, no one was seriously injured. The entire day was spent preventing disastrous situations.
In September of 1987 the fire company appointed a committee to began looking into the replacement of the 1975 Seagrave Ladder Tower. The committee spent many hours looking at demonstrators from different manufacturers, writing specifications and requesting bids. In December of 1987, after receiving three bids, the fire company voted to purchase a Spartan LTI 100 foot aerial tower.
The chassis was built by Spartan and completed in November of 1988. It was then sent to LTI (Ladder Towers, Inc.) to have the 100 foot ladder and custom body built and installed.
The unit was equipped with a Detroit Diesel 8V92T 475 HP engine and an Allison HTB750 automatic transmission. The unit featured dual 1000 GPM monitors, one remote controlled, pre-piped breathing air system to platform and turntable, David Clarke intercom system 12 KW diesel generator and 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, a 18 foot straight roof ladder, a 14 foot straight roof ladder, a 10 foot folding ladder, a 8 foot folding ladder and a 14 foot “A” frame ladder. The unit also carried all the NFPA standard tools of a truck company such as axes, hooks, halligan bars, smoke ejectors, rope, extinguishers, various tips for the ladder pipe, etc.
The fire company purchased in March of 1989 a Ford Horton Type III “Model 502” 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 1989 and placed into service in January of 1990. This would be the first diesel ambulance in the history of the fire company. The unit would also have the new Lifepak 5 defibrillator onboard.
With calls increasing due to the population explosion, Bel Air started a very progressive membership drive in 1989. Due to the work of the recruitment committee, membership committee, and training officers, a total of 39 new members were recruited and trained.