Fire chiefs hang up helmets

May 28, 2010|By MARLO BARNHART
  • Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker, left, and Deputy Chief Ron Horn will soon be retiring.
Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN -- As they prepare to retire from the business of firefighting, Gary Hawbaker and Ron Horn would like people to understand they have spent their adult lives doing more than putting out fires.

"Our efforts since 1987 in the Hagerstown Fire Department have resulted in a 75 percent decrease in structure fires," said Hawbaker, a Greencastle, Pa., native who has been fire chief in Hagerstown since 1985. He is proud of that record, which seems to illustrate the worth of the department's efforts at fire prevention, efforts he said will continue.

Hawbaker, 62, said the department's annual door-to-door survey is under way. Started as a way to promote and install smoke detectors, the program puts firefighters in homes to meet residents, and to spot and solve potential problems. That often includes providing free smoke detectors and installation.

The survey has grown to involve prevention efforts for older residents, installation of handrails and identification of other needs to increase safety for all who live in the residences, Hawbaker said.


The department recently earned a safe community designation for Hagerstown for its injury prevention programs.

After serving as chief of the Greencastle, Pa., fire department, Hawbaker spent five years in Minneapolis working as a fire investigator for a law firm.

Then, former Hagerstown Fire Chief Dick Smith retired and the call went out for applicants for his job. Hawbaker was lured back to his roots, taking over as chief in June 1985.

Now that retirement is looming, Hawbaker said his job has changed from active firefighting to day-to-day management of resources. Hawbaker also insists his future plans are flexible.

"I vowed I wasn't going to retire to take another job," Hawbaker said.

When Hawbaker vacates his chair at HFD headquarters in the Hagerstown Market Building, he won't be going alone.

At of the end of June, Deputy Fire Chief Ron Horn, also 62, is hanging up his helmet after 46 years, seven of them in the second chair.

"As a child, I was actually afraid of the noise firetrucks made," Horn said.

Horn said he met John Hersh, a retired firefighter, when he worked at The Maryland Theatre. Just 16 at the time, the only company Horn was eligible to join was Antietam Fire Co. on Summit Avenue, according to rules in place at that time.

"I loved it from the start," he said.

That same year, Horn joined Community Rescue Service when Eldon Kinna was chief.

In 1975, Horn joined the career firefighting ranks and rose through the department.

Married with a daughter, Horn plans to spend more time working at his business, Superior Dairy. He said he will maintain an administrative presence at Antietam.

"It's been a wonderful 46 years," Horn said.

Kyd Dieterich will serve as acting fire chief of the department, which has 84 employees.

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