Aquashicola Volunteer Fire Company (or Department, AFD), has it all ... everyday heroes in its volunteer firefighters, dedicated members and a community that supports it successfully.
On March 1, AFD held an 85th anniversary party, recognizing many neighboring community emergency responders.
President Rory Koons, master of ceremonies, recognized Susan Choy from Horsehead Community Development Fund; Alverta Costenbader (widow of Paul Costenbader); Lower Towamensing Township supervisors Earl Paules and Brent Green, chairman; Jesse Mendez, Public Works; Commissioner Wayne Nothstein; Cindy Gasper and Denise Gilbert, sisters of the late Jeff Bartholomew of Pencor Services Inc.; and Harry Shupp.
Tribute to 'Lumpy'
AFD lost a valued member June 17 when Gary "Lumpy" Koons, 62, passed away suddenly. He was an active member since 1966 from the age of 15. He served as the assistant fire chief for 34 years, chief for two years, and treasurer since 1985. He was financialsecretary of the Fireman's Relief Association and member of the Four-County Fireman's Association, Lehigh Fire Co. No. 1, Lehighton, and the Marine Corps League.
Trooper Shawn Noonan, Pennsylvania State Police, Lehighton Barracks, spoke of the importance of local fire companies in communities and about his friend Lumpy.
Koons, Noonan and friends were waiting to tee off for a day of golf when Koons was rushed to the hospital and later died. Trooper Joe Campbell came up with the idea of a golf tournament in Lumpy's honor. They organized the successful event in three months. Noonan and Campbell presented a check to AFD in the amount of $4,984.67.
As a member of the state police for the past 18 years, Noonan said, "I have had the opportunity to work with numerous local fire departments, some good, some bad, but I can honestly say I would be hard-pressed to find a fire company that I worked with that is more dedicated, professional or willing to make our jobs easier than the men and women of your fire department," Noonan said. "For that, I, along with other members of the Lehighton barracks, thank you for your volunteerism and service. It is nice to know that we can always count on the Aquashicola Fire Co. to make our jobs easier and the community safer."
The bell tolls
Peter Beblavy, Aquashicola first assistant fire chief, spoke about the tolling of a bell to signify a firefighter's last alarm and explained the meaning of the symbol.
"To firemen, the bell is iconic. Here in Aquashicola, Lumpy, as well as his family, have been icons in our department."
He spoke about the dedication of all the Koons men, such as Lumpy; his brother, Rory; and their father, Charles, who served for years as firefighter and trustee.
Rory, AFD president and safety officer, served as chief for 20 years. Their nephew, Steven Koons, served as firefighter until he moved but continues to handle numerous AFD administrative duties.
"Much of the tradition in the fire service is built on family, family that selflessly serve. Family that are willing to dedicate themselves. Family that care. Family like the Koons."
The department dedicated a fire bell in Lumpy's name to be displayed at the fire hall.
Over the years, AFD purchased three new engines, two new bush trucks, six new tankers and one new rescue truck. It has close to $2 million worth of firefighting assets. AFD will purchase a new tank truck and for the first time in its history, dedicate it to a single individual, the late Koons for his 47 years of dedicated service.
Beblavy also presented the Chief Warren Furry Memorial Firefighter of the Year Award to secretary Charles Kistler.
The George family
Fire Chief Bill George presented the Palmerton Fire Department with a light as a token of appreciation from AFD to PFD for years of mutual aid assistance. It was a gift for their new fire station.
Koons spoke about the dedication of the George family to the AFD in its 85-year history over five generations, beginning with William George (1860-1948).
The George name has been synonymous with Aquashicola, and out of its various entrepreneurs over the years, the only one that has survived and lasted the longest is George at nearly 100 years.
The George family housed the department's first hose cart in one of its sheds. William George donated land to erect a hose house for the cart and the split iron ring used to alert the volunteers.
When the first AFD building was erected, the second William and his sons, Bartine and Gerald, loaned their materials, talents and sweat to help make the facility a reality. They provided their plumbing talents and expertise for all the plumbing, heating, air conditioning and sewer repairs and needs, often at little or no cost to AFD, in addition to being firefighters.
The Georges allowed their employees to leave work when a fire occurred, which included Warren Furry, who served as fire chief from 1955-1980.
The family provided used tank trucks, converting them into water tankers with Bartine donating the vehicles and Gerald and Warren plumbing them. For 36 years, the Georges fueled the 1977 LaFrance truck.
William "Bill" George, the current AFD fire chief, graduated from Mansfield State College and joined the family business and fire company.
"And in true George family form, when the torch was handed to Bill, the core value of giving did not cease," Koons said.
The department presented a plaque with the portraits of the six George men involved in the fire company. It'll be placed in the fire hall, in honor of 85 years of support.
Overcome with emotion, Bill George asked his daughter, Jaclyn Ivancich, to read his prepared speech, laced with humor.
In it he paid homage to his father. "He was and always will be my hero." And Lumpy was "one of my true friends. We did battle together, we worked together, I listened to his stories, and looked at his slides and pictures over and over and over."
He called Koons the backbone, the thinker, the planner and the trainer of the department. He thanked his wife, Jane, and his two daughters, Jaclyn and Nicole, for their understanding and putting up with sharing him in a 24/7 business and fire company.
Challenge to future generations
He acknowledged his sons-in-law Chris Jahelka and Danny Ivancich "who have become an amazing part of my life." He said he was a very proud family man, firefighter, dad and Pappy to his three grandsons.
Koons acknowledged volunteers, supporters and the community's industries and businesses.
"Even though we are a dwindling force, residents can be assured that their community's being protected by dedicated and well-trained and well-equipped volunteers."
He spoke of a challenge given to AFD at its 50th anniversary by its leaders, to keep the tradition alive and the department respectable and solvent.
He extended that challenge to the next generation.
"When you meet here again in 15 years to celebrate the 100th anniversary, I trust there will be more volunteers, a new engine, and that you will provide the membership with the best personal protective equipment and training available. If you continue to follow the pathway our fathers have laid, you will be proud as so many others before you to wear the uniform you donned tonight. And when you leave or retire, you will be as proud, as many of us are, to be a member of this organization. To that end, I ask you to be fiscally responsible and more importantly, stay safe and never shame the name."
Larry Arner, senior firefighter and trustee, gave the invocation and benediction.
The evening ended with Arner's words of "May we all keep what we have just heard in our hearts and try to do our best in life and help wherever help is needed. Keep us all in your care no matter where we are or what we are doing. One day we will meet our departed members and they will say to us, 'Job well done.'"