At our Annual Banquet & Installation of Officers on Saturday, December 17, 2022, the officers, and members of the fire company were delighted to announce the establishment of the “Chief Bruce Neal Achievement Award”, with the first recipient none other than the award namesake, Past Chief F. Bruce Neal. The award, not intended to be awarded annually, is reserved for company members that; through words, deeds, and actions, have demonstrated an extraordinary dedication and willingness to further our company motto… “Service for Others”.
As his father, Evans Neal, was a long-time member of the fire company and would eventually rise to the position of Chief, Bruce was imbued with the ambition to follow in his father’s path and become a firefighter. Upon attaining the age of 14, Bruce joined the Chestertown VFC through our Firemanship Exploring program, a Boy Scouts of America program. Some might refer to Explorers as Cadets, and they wouldn’t be far from the mark. When he turned 17, he was appointed to probationary firefighter status, allowed to ride our equipment on bonafide emergency calls. When he turned 18, at the time the age when full membership in the Chestertown VFC was available to all, Bruce became a regular, full member of the fire company.
He continued as a Chestertown VFC firefighter until 1969, when he was drafted into the United States Army. After entering the army and with training completed, he subsequently deployed to Vietnam for a single tour. There he was an army firefighter, assigned to fire protection and life safety at an airfield. After two years, he was discharged, returning to Chestertown and the fire company.
Upon his return from Vietnam, Bruce picked up in the fire company where he left off. He operated as a firefighter until asked to become an Engineer, our term for a Driver / Pump Operator. Because of his army experience, he moved into this role with seamless effort. In 1974, Bruce became a Captain, at the time the only junior officer position below Assistant Chief with the Chestertown VFC. He remained a Captain until being elected Chief beginning the year 1977.
Starting with his election as Fire Chief, Bruce began a remarkable run in that venerated position. Serving a grand total of 29 years, his run as fire chief, especially in later years, was non-consecutive. This gives him the distinction of becoming the longest serving Fire Chief in the history of the Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company. During these years, he was directly responsible for spurring positive change, helping to develop, embrace, and implement many fire service innovations which occurred during that period. Often, he was sought out for advice and input by others in the fire service, both locally and regionally.
Bruce approached the position of fire chief with an open mind and a goal to bring the most up-to-date fire protection and suppression concepts to the Chestertown community. Always ready to listen and open to new ideas, with stubborn persistence he relentlessly pursued the goal of making the Chestertown VFC the best fire company not only here in Kent County, but on the Eastern Shore, the entire Delmarva Peninsula, and across all of Maryland and Delaware. He demanded the very best performance from all subordinates, placing emphasis on efficient time management during the crucial first minutes of arrival at a fire or other emergency. Unless the emergency scene was next to the fire house, or maybe just down the street, he expected his crews to be ready in all respects to come off the rig, ready to go to work. Should the incident be a working structure fire, it was his philosophy the crew should be off the engine and making entry into the building… hose in hand, going after the fire within a minute or two of the rig stopping. This time goal was especially crucial in the unfortunate instance where someone was unaccounted for and possibly still inside, unable to get out on their own.
Bruce was relentless in his efforts to improve all aspects of our firefighting / emergency operations. He frequently organized drills where our pump operators could gain experience moving water from one location to another… whether it was through the use of a tanker shuttle, or putting together a water relay. A relay uses a series of pumpers connected by lengthy hose lays. These types of operations tend to be problematic and often fail because of simple mistakes.
Day after day, week after week, year after year, Bruce was unflinching and untiring in his efforts to make Chestertown VFC the very best. However, his work was not confined to Chestertown. Occasionally, he could be found helping neighboring companies organize drills, or consulting with some issue or situation they may be facing.
So… in recognition of his extraordinary and distinguished career, with great pleasure the fire company established the “Chief Bruce Neal Achievement Award”. It is to be occasionally awarded to a deserving Chestertown VFC member that embodies the drive, dedication, spirit, determination, and ability that Chief Neal has brought to our organization. Congratulations, Chief Neal! Thank You for all that you’ve done to makes us a first-rate fire company.