By Ron Gower
When you reach my age, one of the first things you look for in the newspaper is the obit page. It used to be I'd look to see if any of my friends or classmates were getting married or having children.
Now, I look to see if any people I know have died. I also count how obituaries there are of people younger than me.
On June 17, a very good friend of mine passed away. He was the same age as me. Gary "Lumpy" Koons, 62, who was the assistant fire chief at the Aquashicola Fire Company for 34 years, died unexpectedly. Gary was also a fire chief for two years.
He was playing golf when he was stricken.
Our friendship goes back decades. I started my reporting career soon after he started in the volunteer fire service. Our paths crossed frequently. What I remember most is that any time I needed assistance at an emergency scene, or whenever I needed information, Gary would either help me or point me in the right direction.
It wasn't just because I was a reporter. Gary was helpful to anybody.
He was never too busy. He was always reliable.
It didn't matter if the fire was at 3 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon, if the Aquashicola Fire Company was there, so was Gary - one of the first to arrive at the scene and one of the last to leave.
He's one of the old breed of volunteers. His brother, Rory, is like that, too. Rory was injured at an emergency scene and despite not being able to scale ladders or rush into burning buildings, he still responds to virtually every call.
Gary also had a health problem. He had a prothesis leg, but it never stopped him or even slowed him down.
I remember once there was a plane crash on a mountain behind the Delaware Avenue plant of the then New Jersey Zinc Company. While some rescue workers utilized ATVs to get to the scene, Gary and I climbed the mountain. Even with the artificial leg, he beat me scaling the hill.
Koons was an active member of the department since 1966 - when he was just 15. He held the position of treasurer since 1985. He was the financial secretary for the Fireman's Relief Association. He was also responsible for logging all of the alarms, submitting them to the state and documenting all training records.
He was a member of the Four-County Fireman's Association, Lehigh Fire Co. No. 1, Lehighton, and the Marine Corps League.
Last week a Celebration of Life service was held for him at the Aquashicola Fire Company. What an appropriate title for a service for Gary because everything he did was a celebration of life. What was special is that that what he did was always so unselfish; always meant to help others.
I wasn't able to attend the service. I wish I could have been there to hear the stories that were told. Gary was a good guy with a heart of gold. He was kind and hard-working. He was also fun-loving.
Obviously time changs a lot of things, but this is especially true with volunteer firefighters.
I remember a time when every fire truck was loaded with members when they responded to a fire scene. Today, many trucks have just one or two members on them when they roll. Gary was always one of the one or two people.
A lot of the old timers, the most dedicated individuals you ever met, either have gotten too old and have come down with health issues which prevents them from staying active as firefighters, or have passed away.
It's going to be strange responding to fire scenes and not seeing Gary there with the Aquashicola Fire Company.
"Rest in peace, my friend."