Fonda Fire personnel stand with their department flag during a farewell dinner Saturday evening.
By REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
FONDA — Albums filled with photographs of former Fonda firefighters lay at the front table at the Winners Circle Restaurant.
Next to them lay binders of newspaper clippings detailing the fires and car accidents and decades-old manuals on fire procedures.
A slide show brought back memories of the firefighters' participation in parades and educational instruction with local students throughout the years.
And the Snell Hose Co. #1 Fonda Volunteer Fire Department flag hung for the last time.
Fonda firefighters officially said their farewell Saturday, a farewell to their department that has been running for nearly 140 years.
In February, the Fonda Village Board approved resolutions officially dissolving the department and ratifying a contract with the town of Mohawk Fire District.
As of March 14, the Fonda department was permanently shut down.
That day, sirens sounded at every fire department across Montgomery County marking the end of the department's life.
On Saturday, members of the Fonda Volunteer Fire Department, most decked in their uniforms, shared a final meal together, reminiscing about their years with the department.
For firefighter Christopher Pilchen, who was with the department for about 2 1/2 years, the department was in his family.
"I feel glad that I joined Fonda because my grandfather was a member and my great-grandfather was a member of the department," he said. "So it's like a family tradition."
Pilchen said that tradition played a role in why he joined.
For Chester Bujanowski, who joined just last year, it was something he always wanted to be a part of.
But Saturday was hard.
"I'm still shocked at it shutting down. I know a lot of these guys now and they're all my brothers, my uncles, my father. And now it's all gone. It's like losing a family member."
Sitting at a table with Asst. Chief Gary Barmen was Fonda Fire Chief Donald Wagoner, who was with the department for 20 years.
Wagoner laughed as he recounted one of his most comical calls.
"We actually had to get a cat out of a tree once," he said. "We had a call somewhere else and then we got a call, 'Cat up a tree.' And I just started cracking up because you only see that in the old movies."
For Barmen, two fires on Main Street, one at a Chinese restaurant and another at a video store, were the ones that stick out for him.
"We don't get a lot of fires, but when we do, they seem to be huge," Barmen said. "Everybody in Montgomery County, Fulton County comes down and help us out."
Each fire brought about 75 firefighters to the scenes, he recalled.
But for many of the firefighters there, it was recent events like Tropical Storm Irene and the devastation is left, that come to the forefront.
Barmen said the flood, the "multi-day event," just had "a life of its own."
Wagoner said the department members "worked around the clock."
And for firefighter Stacy Sefern, it's what brought her through the doors of the department.
"I joined Fonda because of that. They were there for me. I lived in Fultonville ... and Irene took my entire home and every content, so Fonda, some of the guys there came over and helped me out a lot," she said. "That's what inspired me to become a firefighter."
Prior to joining, she feared fire, but now, two years later, she has accomplished a lot.
"They were there to support you and push you and help you."
As Barmen said, "We do more than just put out fires."
Aside from encouraging their own, Barmen said they've refilled train radiators as the trains were passing through and helped local businesses when they were in need.
Saturday, as dinner continued, Wagoner got up before his department members and said his final words as their chief.
"I just want to thank everybody for their dedication to the Fonda Fire Department, Snell Hose Company No. 1. I know it's been a rough few months, but I want to thank everybody for coming," he told them. "I want to thank you for your dedication and sticking with the department and see it out till the end."
Sefern, who is now volunteering with the Fort Johnson Fire Department, said she will surely miss the Fonda firefighters.
"I wish it didn't have to come to this. You wonder where everybody's going to go and when you're going to see them again. It sucks," she said. "I'm just hoping that the other departments open themselves to these guys that are still displaced and have nowhere to go yet."
Fire Chaplain Thomas Flander, Jr., said he was with the department for about a year and was happy to be serving in the community in another way.
It was another way to give back.
He has put in to serve with the town of Mohawk, but is still waiting to hear.
In the meantime, he knows he started in a good place.
"This is a brotherhood, sisterhood. When we go on a call, we pray that we come back from the call," he said. "It's been sad to see this department (torn) down and let go like it has, but you know what, through it all, they've held their heads up high and you've got to give them credit for that."