October 23, 2021

Volunteer honored for dedication to fire department

Smith responds first

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Harford Fire Department first responder Shirley Smith sits Thursday in her Harford home. Smith has been a critical volunteer with the department for nearly 40 years.

Being active in a community is understatement for Shirley Smith of Harford.

She’s been a leader of the town’s 4H, worked as a private nurse for residents, helped run the concession stands at the town’s Little League games and worked as an assistant Girl Scout leader.

But it was for her 35 years of service to the Harford Fire Department that was recently recognized, including helping create a first responders unit.

Smith, 69, has worked at different levels of first responder, including her highest level of critical care technician.

“Shirley is hardworking and selfless,” said Harford Fire Chief Daryl Cross. “She’s an asset and always has been.”

Smith was recruited to the department in 1985 and, as a nurse at what is now Cayuga Medical Center, helped start a first responders unit. The nearest hospitals were 12.6 miles and 24 minutes to Cortland or 23.3 miles and 38 minutes to Ithaca.

The rescue squad’s beginning’s were humble. Most of the equipment was donated from medical centers; AND some items were repurposed. Smith recalled using a turkey baster as a suction tool to clear airways.

The calls also weren’t routine. A few years after she joined the department, Smith was called to help a woman to deliver a baby in her bathroom, she said. When she entered the house, she found the mother sitting at the kitchen table smoking a cigarette.

Another occupant led Smith to the bathroom where Smith found the baby in the toilet.

The baby was blue from toilet dye.

“That sticks with you,” she said.

Smith was also the only member of the squad when it started. Over time, she watched it grow to three emergency medical technicians.

“I thought it was a very needed thing out here,” Smith said. “If we have an accident, there’s nowhere to go.”

She has since developed a strong bond with the other members of the squad and the department as a whole.

“They’re a good bunch of guys,” she said. She feels like a kid sister, where they playfully pick on each other.

However, she’s the only woman with the department, and Smith wished more would join.

Her role in the community also can’t be ignored, said Justin Scott, the department’s deputy chief. “She’s the glue that holds everything together.”

Whenever the fire department responds to an emergency, people ask where Smith is, he said.

Smith is especially well known at the town’s senior center, where she helps check on the health and well-being of the seniors, Smith said.

She also helps take them to doctors’ appointments and run errands, Scott said.

“She’s always there for people in the community, whether it’s in the fire department or just being a good neighbor,” Scott said.

Smith has also volunteered for the American Red Cross, and has traveled across the country assisting people after disasters and emergencies, including work in Tennessee after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Recruiting and keeping volunteers is tough, she said. Training takes time away from families. Smith, though, will be there, ready to go.

“I’m just here to help anybody, anytime,” she said.