This Year’s LION: The Fantastic Fraternity of Firefighters – Webb Weekly Online

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This Year’s LION: The Fantastic Fraternity of Firefighters

My tribute to volunteer firefighters, “God Made a Volunteer Firefighter,” based on Paul Harvey’s essay, “God Made a Farmer,” was one of the most read articles of mine in 2021. But little did I realize that my article only hinted at the incredible commitment, generosity, and just plain grit that our area firefighters and those in other states possess. In the space of one week in mid-December, our county fire companies rallied around a cause to help the fire companies in tornado-torn Kentucky that people will be talking about decades from now.

It started on Monday night, December 13th, when a member of the Clinton Township Volunteer Fire Company, Mat Post, saw on social media that communities in Western Kentucky lost their fire companies — and I mean lost. Gone were the trucks, the equipment, and even the buildings themselves. Mat thought to himself, “We have excess stuff at our fire company. These guys need everything. I could load up our extra supplies in my truck and drive it down to them.”

The next day he mentioned it to the Fire Chief, Todd Winder, and Todd thought it was a great idea, and asked the Lycoming Director of the Department of Public Safety Jeff Hutchins if he would notify the other departments and ask if they would like to pitch in. Did they ever! The word got out, and almost every department in the county was offering something for the firefighters in Kentucky. Soon the word got out, and even other counties were pitching in. It was obviously more than just Mat Post could take by himself, so five others offered to make the trip.

Then, the biggest Christmas gift of the year came when the Clinton Township Volunteer Fire Company members held a special meeting the next day, Wednesday, the 15th, and voted unanimously to donate their 1994 Sutphen Custom Engine/Tanker to the Kentucky effort. The company had just replaced it over the summer and had been shopping it around and hoping to get at least $20-25,000 for it. The offers were not getting close to that number, so they were holding out. There was not a single objection to the motion — the only concern was getting it ready in two days!

Stripping down a truck for transport and organizing all the equipment became a two-day marathon for the members of the Clinton Township Fire Company, as there was at the same time an almost non-stop flow of supplies coming in. All this while they still had to respond to 911 calls that came in. The biggest concern was transporting the truck to Kentucky as it needed to be hauled, and this would be expensive. But then, on Thursday, Ground Shaker Trucking in Muncy not only volunteered to haul the truck but offered to do it for nothing! The owner of Ground Shaker himself, Nicholas Snyder, along with one of his workers, Travis Kropp, would drive the hauler taking the fire truck.

Packing all the hoses, fire gear, equipment, etc., was a huge effort. The value of these items new would amount to over 2 million dollars. Finally, the work was done, and the transport caravan was ready to roll on Friday night, December 17th. It was one of the most moving scenes imaginable. Fire companies from the area came to escort them on the way, along with the Pennsylvania State Police, who made getting to the interstate much, much easier. Close to a hundred folks were there to wish them off, and with a prayer and high-fives, lights blazing, they took off on a 14-hour journey to Kentucky.

Once they arrived on Saturday morning, December 18th, they could not imagine the damage. Whole communities were simply wiped away. The most needy was the Mayfield Graves County Fire Company, so they received the fire truck. What was humbling for the Pennsylvania team was how these folks who lost everything were so grateful for the fire truck and equipment, offering them everything they could after such a long, arduous ride. The firefighters of Kentucky were overwhelmed that their fellow firefighters in Pennsylvania would be so generous to them.

Though they were tired and wanted to get back on the road, the Clinton Township crew spent several hours loading the hose and equipment on the truck. Then they went over the operation and features of the truck with several of their volunteers, so they were ready to go with it. Little did any of them realize that just hours later, there would be a house fire where the truck went into instant action. No sooner was the firehouse out than there was a vehicle accident where the fire truck was dispatched. It was a miracle that the truck was available to help save lives, and also a miracle that there are volunteers who have lost everything still willing to help their fellow neighbors.

When the team returned at 8:00 p.m. on Sunday night, December 19th, every piece of apparatus was in the parking lots with lights again blazing to welcome them back. Mat Post, Todd Winder, Ron Winder, Brad Wright, Eric Eveland from Clinton Township, and Assistant Fire Chief Don Knapp from Muncy were exhausted, exhilarated, and very, very thankful that the trip went so well.

On Tuesday, December 21st, the Lycoming County Commissioners invited Mat Post and Todd Winder to be recognized at their weekly meeting. This is a story that folks will be talking about decades from now. Hopefully, it will inspire others to consider joining or at least helping in whatever way they can to our incredible volunteer fire companies. Heroes are not born — they are made — by showing up and giving all they’ve got to help others.