It takes a lot to be a volunteer firefighter.

Countless hours are spent training, preparing for emergencies, serving others and saving lives.

These brave men and women put their lives on the line, not because they get paid, but rather because they have a love for their community.

Recently, Coaldale Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 honored one of its own, Fire Chief Rich Marek, for his 20 years of service as the company's leader. He was presented with a white New Yorker helmet, which was purchased by the volunteers.

"I was so taken back," the 60-year-old commander said. "It was an awesome feeling to be presented with this helmet. I can't explain the gratitude that I have."

Marek, who was born in Lansford and now resides in Coaldale with his wife, Roxanne, and their dog, Shilo, has served as fire chief since January 1990. He is the eighth person to command the department, following James L. Gallagher, Irvin Murphy, Andrew Mikolay, Daniel Ziegler, Earl Gilbert, Andrew Sotak and Andrew Magazzu.

Marek joined the Coaldale Volunteer Fire Company in the 1970s and worked his way through the ranks. Before chief, he served as second assistant fire chief and first assistant fire chief.

Over the years, he said he has seen numerous changes occur within the company.

"There is a lot more going on here," Marek said. "There are more courses offered because they are changing apparatus, equipment, and other firefighting tools."

He noted that the group runs a tight ship, training frequently and reviewing emergency calls that they responded to after the event is over.

"We critique every scene, no matter how serious or mundane," Marek said. "Hindsight is always 20/20 but we still learn a lot by knowing what we did right or could have done differently."

He said he also has noticed a decline in membership over the course of his career, but credits the men and women who give up their time to serve as volunteer firefighters for making the fire department what it is today.

"I think the department is where it is today because of the class of officers and volunteers that are associated with it," Marek said. "It's a family and sometimes we do have arguments but we get past them and move forward. We've been able to do that and hope to continue in the future."

So does Marek have any intentions of retiring from his post anytime soon?

The answer is simply, "no."

Marek said he plans to stay around the firehouse as long as his health is good.