Pa. city family inspired five generations of firefighters
Robert F. MacCallum remains active with the fire company handling the finances, working events and fundraisers, and heads down to the firehouse anytime there’s a call
The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.
DICKSON CITY, Pa. — For most sons, their father is their first hero.
The MacCallums are no different.
The Dickson City family has been part of the borough’s Eagle Hose Company No. 1 for five generations. It represents a long line of fathers and sons dedicated to serving and protecting the community they call home through the volunteer fire department.
“This is just something we do,” patriarch Robert F. MacCallum, 77, said on a recent afternoon inside the Midvalley home he shares with his wife of 55 years, Barbara. “My grandfather, my father, my sons, grandsons, it just goes on. When you grow up and it’s in the family, it’s tradition.”
There was never any doubt in Robert F. MacCallum’s mind that he would be a firefighter. His father, Robert, was a member of Eagle Hose Company, and his maternal grandfather, Fred Zimmerman, was a charter member. When he was finally of age, Robert F. MacCallum tried to join the ranks but needed to wait another year for it to open for new members. It was strict in those days, he said, even with his family clout, and, in 1960, when he got in, he had to adhere to a point system to retain his position.
“You had to make sure you were putting in the work,” he said. “If you didn’t have enough calls or cleanups by the end of the year, you were put on a kind of inactive status. It was different then.”
Robert F. MacCallum has held almost every position in the company, including fire chief, assistant fire chief, president and treasurer, the latter of which he still holds today. He’s also served as president of Ambulance Association offices, Northeast Pennsylvania Firemen’s Federation and Keystone State Fire Chiefs Association.
His sons wanted to be just like their dad. Robert MacCallum joined Eagle Hose Company first in 1981, and his younger brother Bill became a member in 1984.
“It was always part of our household and with our circle of friends,” Robert MacCallum, 53, said. “We grew up with it.”
Bill MacCallum, 50, said being at the firehouse was a way of life for the family. He remembers hanging out there as a young kid and teenager, first to watch his older brother and then to learn the ropes himself. There were many times the brothers went to calls together with their father.
“We always look out for each other,” Bill MacCallum said. “Whether it’s sons or the other guys, we’re always looking out and helping each other.”
While Robert F. MacCallum doesn’t fight fires anymore, he still remains active with the company. He handles finances, works at the fire company’s events and fundraisers, and heads down to the firehouse anytime there’s a call. While the patriarch of the family feels uneasy when his sons are in potentially dangerous situations, he knows it’s important to them and for the greater good.
“You always worry. That’s just normal, but you have to look at the big picture,” Robert F. MacCallum said. “You take yourself out of it and think about the people who need your help. You have a job to do.”
Paying it forward in the community remains a huge part of the MacCallums’ dedication to the volunteer fire company. Both sons have worked full-time jobs (Bill MacCallum is a radiologic technologist at Regional Hospital of Scranton and Robert MacCallum is employed by Proctor & Gamble and is mayor of Dickson City) while still doing their part for the firehouse. They’ve also held various officer positions — including fire chief — sometimes serving together. The ability to help the greater community and the people of Dickson City through the fire department led Robert MacCallum to positions as controller and mayor in the borough.
“It comes from the civil service I learned over there,” he said. “Serving the community (in political positions) is something important to me, and it has a lot to do with (being a firefighter).”
Just like the MacCallums spent their childhoods at the station, it was the same for their own children. Bill MacCallum’s sons, Billy and Sean, and Robert MacCallum’s daughter, Lauren, played and ran through the bay where the fire engines are housed and explored the inside of the trucks as kids. That’s where the boys first heard the call.
For the eldest, Billy, his dream was to be a firefighter. He became a junior firefighter in Avoca at 14, thank to his mom, Tracey’s, family’s involvement with that company. Then he moved to Dickson City, where he served as a volunteer member before beginning his career as a full-time firefighter in Fairfax County, Virginia. Today, the 21-year-old works 24 hours on and off for days at a time, with four days off in between. The hours are tough, and so is being away from his family, but he visits his hometown whenever he can.
“This is always what I wanted to do. It was always the plan,” he said. “As far back as I can remember, I was (at the firehouse) and watching my family. If I wasn’t for them, I don’t know if I’d be where I am today.”
His younger brother, Sean, also followed the family tradition, beginning as a junior firefighter at 15. Now 17, Sean is a recent graduate of Mid Valley Secondary Center and plans to balance out his school and workload to continue being a firefighter as he enters college this fall. He will enter University of Scranton as a biochemistry major and follow the pre-med studies route. Being a firefighter helped steer him toward a career as a doctor.
“Going out into the community and seeing firsthand how I could help, that helped me in my career, deciding what I want to do with my life,” Sean said. “I want to dedicate my life to helping people, and this is where I got my start.”
Sean is one of three junior firefighters in Dickson City, which will fall to two after Sean turns 18 in August and advances. Volunteers are scarce, especially as far as young people go, and many people might not realize the importance of a volunteer fire company in a small town, he said. And so Sean does his best to spread the word about what he’s doing and what it means to the community.
“This is just what (my brother and I) grew up with,” Sean said. “We were raised around it and got to see it firsthand through our family. We always wanted to be part of it because that’s just what we were doing.”
The MacCallums spoke of the bond between the members of the fire company and how they become like family. It’s an unmistakable feeling to have your grandfather, father, uncle or brother there, Sean MacCallum said, and the MacCallums are fortunate enough to be surrounded by family, in one way or another, every time they head out to a call.
As people run from danger, firefighters run toward it. And generations of MacCallums will continue to follow their fathers’ footsteps, wherever they lead.
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Meet the MacCallums
Family: Robert F. MacCallum, 77, lives in Dickson City with his wife, Barbara. They have two sons, Robert MacCallum, 53, who lives in Dickson City and has a daughter, Lauren; and Bill MacCallum, 50, who lives in Dickson City with wife, Tracey, and has two sons, Billy, 21, and Sean, 17.
Firefighting tradition: Robert F. MacCallum joined Eagle Hose Company No. 1, Dickson City, in 1960, following in the footsteps of his father, Robert, and maternal grandfather and charter member, Fred Zimmerman, before him. Robert F. MacCallum’s older son, Robert MacCallum, joined the fire company in 1981, and younger son Bill MacCallum joined in 1984. Bill MacCallum’s sons, Billy and Sean, became junior firefighters at Eagle Hose Company in 2013 and 2016, respectively. Today, Billy is a full-time firefighter in Fairfax County, Virginia, and Sean will advance in rank in August.
©2019 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.)