Veteran wins firefighter honor

November 01, 1999

Outstanding FirefighterBy KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

On Oct. 21, Richard Baer was named Outstanding Firefighter by the Washington County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association.

Baer said he appreciates being acknowledged by his peers but believes that if an award is to be given it should go to someone else - his wife.

"Many a meal has gotten cold while I was out on a call," said Baer.

Married to Donna Baer for 40 years, he said she has supported him every step of the way.

"They're the unsung heroes," he said referring to the spouses of rescuers.

A volunteer with the Longmeadow Volunteer Fire Department, Baer has answered the call to service for the past 46 years.

At 62, Baer doesn't often get close to the flames anymore.

"My wife doesn't want me to (fight fires) and I respect that. But if push comes to shove, I'll help out," he said.


Baer is still relied on to drive the company's trucks at an age when many firefighters step onto the sidelines.

At the age of 16, the Washington County native followed in the footsteps of several family members in devoting himself to firefighting.

"I just never knew any different. It was what I was taught and it gave you a sense of pride," he said.

Baer said his parents instilled in him an appreciation for community involvement. "I was taught do what I can for people."

Originally a member of the Maugansville Goodwill Fire Department, Baer in 1970 helped organize the Longmeadow Fire Department on Longmeadow Road in Hagerstown.

He served in several positions with Longmeadow, including vice president, lieutenant, recording secretary, captain, chaplain, fire chief, firefighter, chief engineer, deputy chief and secretary.

"Baer has established a very high standard of excellence which every firefighter should strive to obtain," said former Longmeadow Fire Chief Justin Mayhue in his Outstanding Firefighter nomination letter.

"Although soft-spoken, his words and actions are synonymous. In the face of fire and uncontrolled chaos his demeanor is calm and his actions are decisive," Mayhue wrote.

Through the years Baer experienced the physical toll firefighting brings, along with the camaraderie.

While fighting a fire in a two-story home more than 25 years ago, Baer fell through a staircase.

He escaped with just bruises but firefighters in another part of the home weren't so lucky, having to fight off a swarm of bees flushed out by the smoke, he said.

Modest about his years of service, Baer said that he isn't so special, although others would disagree.

Baer is someone "the world can look to with awe and wonder at his long successful career," said current Longmeadow Fire Chief Richard Roche.

One of Roche's favorite Richard Baer stories originated in 1996, when the firefighter, without a car to drive, ran from his lawn-care business on Marsh Pike to the fire station so the company would not fail on the call.

At the time Baer was 59 years old.

"Most would have not responded to the call at all, let alone run almost a mile and a half distance through fields and yards. But then Richard (Baer) is not most," said Roche.

Over the years Baer has fought his share of fires in which lives have been lost and homes destroyed.

"You can sit home and read about a fire or a flood in the paper, but when you sift through soggy, burnt remains of home you realize how much people really lose," said Baer.

"It makes you more appreciative of what you have."

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