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2014 Person of the Year: Volunteer Firefighter

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 31 December 2014 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Two firefighters battle smoke at a fire on Phipps Road in Albion on Sept. 19.

They will respond within minutes when a house is on fire, cars collide, or residents need help, whether it’s a heart attack, a senior citizen who has fallen or a basement that is flooded.

The 500 active volunteer firefighters make a world of difference in Orleans County and then do it without collecting a dollar for their efforts.

Firefighters were called to a house fire in Eagle Harbor after midnight on April 20, which was also Easter morning.

Orleans Hub frequently posts photos of firefighters in action at fires. But that is only a small fraction of their effort. There are numerous other calls each day for issues ranging from abdominal pain, fire alarm, overdose/poisoning, vehicle fire, “unknown problem/man down,” fainting, sick person, cardiac arrest, breathing problems and many other issues. And that’s only in the past few days.

These calls come at all hours of the day. Firefighters will respond in the middle of night and then go to work on little to no sleep.

Albion Fire Department Captain Jared Hapemen, right, and his brother Jason pump out a basement on West Academy Street in Albion after the ice storm hit the area last December.

There are 12 fire departments in the county and they will repsond to nearly 8,000 calls this year.

They will answer calls when it’s 90 degrees out on a major holiday or they will be out in sub-freezing temperatures for hours on end.

It was 2-below zero on Jan. 3 when fire tore through a farmhouse on East Barre Road in Barre. Several fire departments were on the scene for hours.

All the local fire departments are staffed by volunteers, except Medina Fire Department which has 13 full-time paid staff, as well as two temporary paid positions.

Medina is the primary ambulance provider for the western end of the county, and increasingly handles calls in eastern Niagara and central Orleans. The paid Medina firefighters are also trained to handle the ambulance calls. Those firefighters essentially cover their own salaries with the revenue they bring in through the ambulance calls. They join volunteers on many calls.

Two Carlton firefighters face a house engulfed in flames on Nov. 7 on Kent Road.

There is a lot of talk these days about shared services and local municipalities needing to work together. The local fire departments have been a model of cooperation for decades. They join in mutual aid and work together without egos getting in the way.

They save lives and property. They save taxpayers lots of money.

They make our community stronger through their commitment to caring for neighbors.

Lyndonville firefighter Ashton Lang meets with elementary students on Oct. 7 during a fire prevention program at the school.

They teach children about fire prevention, knowledge that no doubt keeps many fires from ever starting.

Firefighters treat each other like family, looking out for one another especially during a time of need.

When Jon DeYoung, deputy fire chief at Clarendon was battling colon cancer for the second time, firefighters in the East Battalion did a boot drive on Sept. 20.

In the above photo, his son Jon DeYoung Jr. accepts money from a motorist in the boot drive at the intersection of routes 31 and 237. Firefighters collected funds for DeYoung while he was receiving treatments at the Cleveland Clinic.

DeYoung has been a long-time leader for the Clarendon Fire Company, earning respect and admiration in the community, said Fire Chief Bob Freida.

“He’s an outstanding person who wouldn’t think twice about helping someone else in the community,” Freida said at the boot drive.

John L. Miller returned as a Shelby volunteer firefighter on Dec. 11 and also returned to work as an emergency medical technician with Mercy EMS in Batavia. He thanked the firefighting family for helping during his recovery from a serious car accident on Aug. 1.

When John Miller, the EMS captain in Shelby, was seriously injured in an August car accident, Shelby firefighters helped care for his children and provided meals for his family during his recovery. Miller, 36, returned to work and active service with the fire department in mid-December.

“As far as being a fire company, we’re a family at Shelby,” Miller said. “I knew I had a long road ahead of me, but I had a great group of friends with me along the way.”

Firefighters train for all kinds of emergencies. Each year they put in about 10,000 hours of official training for fire and EMS.

The photo above, shows firefighters from Barre, Shelby and Ridgeway dousing a live fire training trailer owned by the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control. The trailer simulates a fire at an ethanol tanker.

Firefighters do a lot of other work in the community. In Medina, they collect and deliver toys to about 100 families each holiday season in a project coordinated by the Medina Area Association of Churches.

In above photo, firefighters from Ridgeway, Shelby, East Shelby and Medina all volunteered on Dec. 20 to deliver boxes of toys to families and food to senior citizens.

Firefighters also add energy and a presence to local parades, including the Nov. 29 Parade of Lights in Medina, when several local departments decorated big fire trucks in Christmas lights. East Shelby firefighters, including fire chief Mike Fuller (right), dressed as reindeer for the parade.

Photo courtesy of Rocky Sidari, Albion fire chief

The mutual aid network spreads beyond Orleans County. When Buffalo was hit with two monster snowstorms last month, 60 firefighters spent several days in the Buffalo area, helping stranded motorists and responding to other emergency calls.

Firefighters used all-terrain four-wheelers to check on stranded motorists in Lackawanna in the above photo. They took motorists to a fire hall in Lackawanna.

In all of these ways, and many more, Orleans Hub thanks firefighters for giving so much of themselves to their neighbors.

I’d also like to thank the fire police for letting me get close to some of these scenes. One of the long-time firefighters, Richard Cary of Holley, died unexpectedly on Nov. 27 at age 73. He volunteered for decades with the Holley Fire Department, most recently with the fire police. He is pictured above, center, on Route 31 just west of Holley. The road was closed on April 23 for several hours after an 18-wheel tractor-trailer rolled over.

Cary and all of the firefighters are role models for community service.