Betty Jo Senior (total of 16 years)
Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, Auxiliary Member (5)
Past Member, Fire and EMS (Bel Air)
Chair, HCVFA Benevolent Fund (2 years)
A life of service brings a life of returns, finds Betty Jo Senior—not only in self-satisfaction but in friends, support, and even finances. “You have to give to your community, to get back from your community,” she says.
Senior first became involved in the fire/EMS world when her husband, a Baltimore County firefighter, convinced her to take an EMT class. She got the bug and joined Bel Air in 1979, which she eventually left as a lifetime member and rejoined as an auxiliary member. “Fire department is a family—volunteer or paid,” Senior says, noting she’s still especially close with several women she’s known since she began.
Besides this circle of women she started with, she still has numerous other friends who continue to volunteer together over many years. “Life would be empty without these friendships,” she says. “I wouldn’t know any of them without joining Bel Air.” These friends have become a second family, she says. “I can call anyone, and out of 100 names if I called and said, ‘I need…’ I know it would be taken care of.”
Her experience enriched her life in another major way, too. “Riding the ambulance as long as I did set me up for a career in nursing,” she says. “I became a nurse and pursued a career in medicine.”
She now considers volunteering to be her job after her career in nursing. It not only provides satisfaction and social ties, but adds to her retirement money as well. “You get to help your community, and they give back to you in a pension,” she says. This benefit is Harford County’s Length of Service pension program, known as LOSAP, which provides a monthly stipend after age 55 based on your number of years of service.
When Senior looks back on her volunteer service, it’s full of times she felt she made an impact. “There are too many to isolate,” she says, “but any time you are successfully able to get someone to a medical facility, and they leave the facility as a functional human being again, that’s a success story.”
One memorable call involved a local physician and his wife who were injured in a house fire. Senior’s crew was able to put them in a helicopter and send them for intensive treatment. They were burned, but had a good recovery. “Successfully completing your mission is a huge accomplishment and highlight,” she says.
More recently, Senior has taken a role in developing the HCVFA’s new benevolent fund to raise money for any fire or EMS member who needs financial assistance due to job loss or other hardship. “It’s about caring for our firefighters and EMS to provide help if it is needed,” she says. The county is developing the fund in the name of Judy Hinch, who died in 2019 after dedicating her life to volunteering for the Aberdeen Vol. Fire Co. and for all of Harford County through the HCVFA.
One of Senior’s proudest moments as a volunteer came through their most recent fundraising event, in which the department raised $6,000 through a raffle. “The income we got from this event really put us in a good position,” she says. Her one regret from her time as a volunteer: that she never got the chance to deliver a baby. “That’s a competition I lost,” Senior jokes, recalling a long-running competition she once held with her husband.
Senior advises any prospective HCVFA volunteers to not only give it a try, but to commit to staying a while. That’s how you really get to know your peers, make lifelong friends, and experience the journey of personal growth and adventure.
“It takes the same things as it does for a marriage—commitment,” she says. “Commit yourself to trying it.” With that commitment comes the ability to build fortitude from a tragedy, she says, and to build a passion for the fire service through your involvement.
“The benefits outweigh the sacrifice,” she says. “I can’t imagine my life without the friends I made. That’s worth its weight in gold.”