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Gifts, thanks make the rounds at Aquashicola Fire Co. party

  • Pete Beblavy
    Pete Beblavy
Published December 09. 2010 05:00PM

Rory Koons, president of the Aquashicola Fire Company welcomed members, friends and supporters of the fire company to a Christmas party held at the Blue Ridge Country Club on Sunday.

He said a moment should be spent to remember those who could not be there such as Jeff Bartholomew. "He always attends but is having a tough time. He sent a card saying he and his wife Lisa always had a great time. We hope he gets well soon." Enclosed was a check for $2,000.

Louise Koons gave the blessing and handed out gifts for a free drawing.

A PowerPoint presentation was running on a screen with the logo "Where duty calls - there you will find us." The pictures were vintage up to this year. It was put together by Gary "Lumpy" Koons.

Steve Koons, Rory's son, saves the company about $3,000 by handling tax accounts. He lives near Washington D.C. and works behind the scenes for the fire company.

Harry Shupp and Bill George renovated the bathrooms, said Koons.

A short video, "Volunteers," was shown that stressed the dangers of firefighting. It said each year 100 or more firefighters die in the line of duty.

The state fire commissioner says everyone goes home from a fire but "we know not everyone goes home." Firefighters sacrifice for the rest of us. Every 23 seconds they respond to a call. Many of them are volunteers taking their lives in their hands and sometimes paying the ultimate price.

This year 105 were honored and 33 of them were volunteers. One company responded to a dumpster fire. It exploded and a firefighter was killed leaving a wife and daughter.

Firefighters hold a variety of day jobs and save their communities $37 billion each year. Helping a neighbor in need is what firefighting is all about.

Koons said the pay is a thank you. "That's all we ask. We eat, we sleep and breathe fire. When we go on vacation we visit the local station and take pictures."

In this community we get support. "I'm going to ask this young guy what you find in a dumpster."

The reply was garbage. "That's what a man died for. Be smart and be safe."

Pete Beblavy said he wanted to speak about the gentlemen in the company who are graying. We learn from their experiences and training. They have positioned this company for today and the future.

"We train every Monday evening. They teach us the tricks to ensure when we leave we are better firefighters," said Beblavy.

They teach both through what they've learned and through life experiences. The admirable thing about these guys is that they treat us as though the company was their own business.

He said they spend a lot of other peoples' money and always consider an expense seriously. Every decision is debated and nothing is bought if it does not benefit the community or fire company.

There are no plaques for the gray guys but a thank you from fellow members and the community is always appreciated, said Beblavy.

Bill George, fire chief, said the filling sale was the best ever raising $2,800.

When the company needed a $7,500 compressor it was Bill Smelas and the Horsehead Community Development Fund that provided the money.

Smelas said the fund was formed in 1989 to give back to the community. It receives 25 to 30 applications each year and has granted $2.8 million.

A grant of $2,600 from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources paid for brush firefighting equipment. Two Department of Community and Economic Development grants have been applied for: $65,000 to replace a roof and 40-year-old heater. Another $140,000 from the gaming commission will go toward putting solar panels on the roof if it is received.

Doyle Heffley, the newly elected state representative, said he drives past the fire company at night and sees people there. In Harrisburg we have to prioritize the budget and I'll work toward helping you. Your local community supporting the fire company - that's what I like to see, he said.

Koons introduced the keynote speaker, Sam Burrows. He joined the Catasauqua Fire Department in 1965 and became chief in 1985. He retired in 2010.

He said when he started in Catasauqua the fire company had three 500 gallon pumpers. There was no ambulance except the fire company rescue truck. We had a grant for the rescue truck but when they found we were using it as an ambulance we had to return the grant. That was the beginning of the ambulance corps in Catasauqua.

We now have 3,000-gallon pumpers, thermal imaging and other new equipment. Everyone in the fire service is both a teacher and a student forever, said Burrows. George Samok of Palmerton was one of his better teachers.

Although he did not have to raise money for the company, he had to get it from a borough council.

The biggest advance is in safety and training that go hand in hand.

Samok told him when he was 55 he should get out. Burrows thought that was young but then realized he was being told to get out before he burned out.

He was in Little Gap Estates when he got a call about a major fire in Catasauqua. When he went out to look he asked how they stopped the fire.

"Chief, we did what you taught us," his crew said.

He concluded by saying Aquashicola has a long history but you will be able to stand back and say, "We may not be the best but we did a good job."

Beblavy had a gift for Koons, a 12-cup coffeemaker, which Koons said would be put to good use at the fire company since theirs came over on the Mayflower.

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