Veteran firefighters honored in Slatington
SHARON STANLEY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Veteran firefighter Anthony Gnas, right, accepts a plaque honoring him for his four-plus decades of service from Fire Chief Keith Weaver, left, and Assistant Fire Chief Jason Nicholas, center.
At least 50 people braved Saturday night's heavy snowfall to attend a dinner at the Vigilant Fire Company's banquet hall to honor two veteran Slatington firefighters.
Gary E. Phillips and Anthony Gnas, both of whom retired last year, were honored for their four-plus decades of service to the Slatington Volunteer Fire Department.
Following a buffet-style dinner, fellow firefighters were presented commemorative silver dog tags with their names and years of service on them. Afterward, current Fire Chief Keith Weaver announced they would also be handing out special plaques to two retiring firefighters.
First up was Gnas who, during his acceptance speech, recalled the historic Bittner House fire in the 1970s and also starting back when "Emmaus was still the base station."
In addition to being a firefighter since 1966, Gnas also held the positions of captain, training officer and safety officer.
When it was Phillips' turn, Weaver said he had been a mentor to him over the years.
Phillips mentioned fellow firefighters he had worked with over the years, including one he said had risked his life more than anyone there knew.
In addition to having been fire chief for 13 years, Phillips also held the positions of lieutenant and assistant fire chief and fire marshal.
Gnas later said he began his firefighting service after having served on Slatington's ambulance corps. He also said that what got him involved was a sense of "help thy neighbor."
"It's hard to leave something you're so dedicated to … and I hope the younger generation continues with all the modern technology that's out there now," said Gnas.
He went on to say that the "real hero" of his family was his wife, Barbara. She admitted to many sleepless nights waiting and worrying while Gnas was out on fire calls.
Afterward, Phillips said he became interested in firefighting because he grew up next to Springside Fire Company and because it was "a way to give back to the community and help people when they were in their worst condition."
He said he unofficially joined when he was 15, but had to wait until 1968 when he was 18, to officially join because a junior firefighter program did not yet exist.
At just 19, he went before borough council to suggest they centralize Slatington's three fire departments into one; the borough did so in the early 1980s.
"If it wasn't for Gary pushing for a central fire station," said Weaver, "we would not have the equipment we have today. We have the best equipment that we can buy."
Phillips added that what he'll miss most is the camaraderie and noted that his partner, Marilyn Rohrbach, has been with him through most of his firefighting years.
Weaver said both Gnas and Phillips were always there when needed and will be greatly missed but that both will remain involved in some fire department activities, such as the Firemen's Relief Association.