William B. “Byron” Phelps joined the Odenton Volunteer Fire Company (OVFC) on November 12, 1942, as a junior member. Boys that age were only allowed to help during brush, field, and wood fires. Back in the 1940’s, Odenton to Glen Burnie was all forest. Tanker trucks were used a lot to carry water because there were no fire hydrants back then.
Byron was voted in as an official volunteer with the OVFC on October 22, 1943, at 16-years-old. When he was 17 years old, he started taking the training to be a full-fledged firefighter, but then took a break so that he could honorably serve in the Navy from November 26, 1944, to July 5, 1946. Upon return, Byron quickly continued his service with the OVFC. He always credited his uncles Lester and Lee Phelps for inspiring him to be a firefighter as they were a part of the company. The firehouse was a quick walk from his home which is where the Odenton Regional Library now stands.
In a past newspaper article, Byron remembered back to 1970 when ambulance service began being offered and the drivers were women. He embraced the new volunteers. He was quoted as saying “I enjoyed [seeing the women]. We were a good family up there, we all got along and still do. However, firefighting is serious business”. Byron also stated his scariest moment was on Dorsey Road. There was a big brush fire moving towards a house. The fire actually burned the hose that was still attached to the back of the fire truck. Byron was proud they saved the home, and no one got hurt.
Byron has served the OVFC in a wide variety of positions. On the administrative side, he served on the Board of Directors in 1962, 1964 to 1967, 1974, and 1977. He served as Treasurer from 1968 to 1971, and in 1973. He was also on the Hall Rental, Carnival, Bingo, Apparatus, and Building Committees at various times. He ran the OVFC carnival for five years. On the operational side, he served as Second Lieutenant in 1955 to 1959, Lieutenant in 1960 to 1967, and as Captain in 1967 and in 1969 to 1972. While he never aspired to be the Chief or the President, that is actually a statement of his dedication to just being one of the troops and doing whatever was necessary to get the job done.
Byron was one of the most dedicated and dependable drivers that our company had for many years. Call him, any time of the day or night, to fill the station or transfer an engine to another station, and Byron was right there. Schedule a training drill, and Bryon was there to assist and help teach the younger members the right way to handle a hose line or drive a pumper. There is an old story around OVFC that when Byron was asked to take an engine to the car races at Dorsey Speedway many, many years ago, he was known to race around the track to see how fast the engine would go. Of course, Byron denied the story but the smile on his face showed it was true.
Byron was an active firefighter for over 50 years until bad knees and age caught up with him. He continued to be a part of the OVFC family by cleaning the hall with his late wife Alberta and friends Ray and Linda Hodgson for eight years.
Byron never held office within the Anne Arundel County Volunteer Firefighters Association (AACVFA) or the Maryland State Firemen’s Association (MSFA) but was a regular attendee at the meetings of the AACVFA and the conventions of the MSFA as a representative of the OVFC. While his advancing age and health limited his activities, he remained an active participant in these meetings and conventions for many, many years. Byron was inducted in the AACVFA Hall of Fame in 2010.
In April 2018, Bryon was recognized for his 75 years of service at the annual banquet receiving a plaque. He was 91 years young at the time. Shortly after that, Byron was presented an Executive Citation for his service at the Thursday night food trucks to a hall full of people who were having dinner. The round of applause for Byron was loud and you could tell his 75-years of service was appreciated by the community. At that time, Byron stated he stayed with the company for 75 years because he just likes to help people.
On June 19, 2018, Byron was a recipient of the MSFA Marbery F. Gates Service Cup Award which honors members with over 50-years of service.
Over his volunteer fire service history, Byron has remained a valuable contributor to the OVFC. If anyone spent an hour with him over a cup of coffee, they learned much about the history of OVFC and the fire service in general. They didn’t have horses when he started, but many of the fire suppression methods and equipment were primitive compared to today’s standards. Byron’s life experiences permitted you to walk through that path of progress. Until very recently, he still attended the company fundraisers to include Oyster and Bull Roasts, Food Truck Thursdays, and Crab Feasts. He was a regular attendee at the company’s annual banquets in April. He would always stop by the annual carnival to sit in the office to visit with everyone.
Byron worked over 24 years for the Westinghouse Electrical Corporation in their security and fire operations department.
Byron passed away on February 2, 2022, at the age of 95. He had 79-years of service to the OVFC and held the longest tenure of any OVFC member. Thank you for your service, Byron, we’ll take it from here. May you rest in peace.