Firefighters honored by Chamber

The Montrose Area Chamber of Commerce honored firefighters with 50 or more years of service as the 2011 Citizens of the Year at a dinner held June 15. Honorees attending were: front row, from left: Donald Wood, Dick Robinson, Wayne Very, Melvin Graham Jr., Ray Hollister, Donald Smales and Robert Walker. Second row: Lyle Very, Willard Loch, John Bronson and John Merrell. Standing: Edward Frystak, William VanKuren, Allyn Hinds, Robert Coy, John Mooney and Jack Lasher.

BY STACI WILSON

In recognition of the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, the Montrose Area Chamber of Commerce presented the Citizen of the Year honors to 30 area firefighters who have volunteered their service for 50 years.

The firefighters recognized came from 13 departments that respond to calls in the Montrose and Elk Lake school districts which comprise the Chamber’s area. The event was held Wednesday, June15 at the Montrose Bible Conference.

Although all of the honored firefighters have volunteered for more than 50 years, two of the men, both United Fire Company, Montrose, members began their service in the 1940s.

Edward Frystak joined in 1946 and Don Wood became a member in 1944 during World War II at the age of 16.

The men each received a pin and commendations from the governor, the PA House and Senate and the county commissioners.

Featured speaker Pat Daly noted the number of the honored men who came from “firefighting families.”

Daly, a third generation member of United Fire Co., said bringing family members into firefighting was “probably one of the greatest contributions” made by the men.

“We have such a rich history here,” said Daly. He said some of the departments date back to the 1800s; while many other local departments formed in the 1940s and 50s.

“They realized there wasn’t adequate fire coverage and the men from what has been described as ‘the greatest generation’ stood up again,” Daly said.

It was in that time period that the companies in Rush, Springville, Snake Creek, Forest Lake and Silver Lake were formed.

Daly said, “They were men of action.”

He said Bill VanKuren, one of the honorees, first joined Forest Lake’s fire department as a teen. “(Forest Lake) bought a fire truck and didn’t incorporate until two years after that,” Daly said.

Elk Lake Volunteer Fire Company is one of the youngest companies in the area, forming in the 1970s.

Daly said that there is “no pot of gold” that comes to a squad when they form a company. But the “brotherhood of firemen” was there to help out the fledgling group.

The King of Prussia Fire Company loaned a truck to start Elk Lake off. After 20 years of service in Elk Lake, King of Prussia asked to have the truck back.

It wasn’t just any truck they loaned to Elk Lake, it was King of Prussia’s first fire truck, Daly said.

“The relationship between the two companies is still strong,” Daly said and King of Prussia has helped Elk Lake purchase other trucks.

“It’s brothers helping brothers,” Daly said.

Daly noted that most of the companies now run trucks that are fairly new. “But money has always been pretty tight,” he said.

He spoke about the ingenuity shown by the men in the early days of departments with tanker trucks made out of converted milk trucks. Elk Lake even made a tanker from an old school bus.

“It was the most interesting thing I’ve ever seen,” Daly said.

Firefighters have made due with what was available to them at the time.

For example, the last two garage bays at United were made using parts from the old ski tote that used to stand on lower South Main St. in Montrose.

“They built their own firehouses and trucks,” Daly said. “They were jacks-of-all-trades – laborers, electricians.”

Daly said, “Their dedication went beyond time” as some companies would “pass the hat” at meetings just to pay the fuel oil bills for the fire house.

Daly said that in 1987, Rush volunteers planned to march in United’s firemen’s parade. But a barn fire in the Montrose area had taken United away from its carnival and Rush knew the men needed to get the concession stands open.

“Without being asked, (Rush) didn’t march in the parade and re-racked our trucks,” Daly said.

But the men were dedicated to the public as well as fellow departments.

One Christmas Eve, the Fairdale Methodist Church caught fire right when most of the men were attending church services.

The pagers went off and the men got up and walked out “answered the call.”

“That fire had almost every company there that we are honoring tonight,” Daly said.

Susquehanna County fire police president Mark Wood served as the master of ceremonies for the banquet.

Members of Boy Scout Troop 92 presented the colors and led the Pledge of Allegiance.

Jake Myers, and Eagle Scout and a member of the All Eastern Chorus, provided musical entertainment.

The honorees and their guests were served a traditional thanksgiving dinner. Williams Oil and Gas donated the funds to purchase the dinners for the honorees and their guests.

Citizens of the Year honorees, listed by fire companies are as follows:

Columbia Hose Co.: Elwyn MacConnell

Elk Lake: Ronald Hunsinger

Hallstead: Allen Booth, John Merrell, James McCreary, Harold Tuttle, Robert Walker

Rush: Horace Baldwin, Kenneth Bomboy, Frank Conboy, Gerald Conboy, Ray Hollister, Melvin Graham Jr., Wayne Very

Silver Lake: John Mooney, Steve Whitmore

Snake Creek: Dick Robinson

Springville: John Bronson, Willard Loch, William Loch, Donald Smales, Eugene Trowbridge

United: Robert Beesmer (deceased), Robert Coy, Edward Frystak, Allyn Hinds, Jack Lasher, Lyle Very, William VanKuren, Donald Wood.