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Retiring Pa. firefighter honored for 44 years of service

Bob Smith said that a tragic fire prompted him to become a volunteer firefighter

By Travis Kellar
The Times-Leader

KINGSTON, Pa. — After more than 50 years of service, firefighter Bob Smith is officially calling it a career.

Officials at the Kingston/Forty Fort Fire Department hosted a breakfast on Friday to celebrate Smith’s half-century of service to the communities in which he lived.

Smith, who turns 66 next week, explained that a tragic fire actually prompted him to become a volunteer firefighter.

Smith recalled the late-night blaze that broke out during the Fourth of July weekend in 1966.

“In the process of that fire, a fella that went to school with me died in that fire,” he said.

At the time, an officer of the Plymouth Fire Co. No. 1 lived next door to Smith. Smith remembered helping that officer at the scene and at the station, thus beginning his career.

“I ended up just sort of like helping out at the fire scene, and it went from there,” he said.

Smith joked that since he was 15 at the time, he shouldn’t have been able to work, as one had to be 18 years old to work at a fire department.

But by the time he was 18, he was doing interior fire attacks — something he loved ever since.

“In 5 minutes, it’s like doing a day’s work,” he said. “It really separates the men from the boys. … A lot of people can say they can do it, but don’t end up doing it well.”

But within the past few years, Smith believed he would be more in the way as opposed to being helpful at the scenes.

“What I did best, I can’t do anymore.”

Smith will be on vacation until June 30, then he will officially be retired. As for his plans moving forward, he looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Denise. “It will be us being able to do what we want to do.”

As for hobbies, the Harveys Lake Rod and Gun Club member plans to “shoot and reload, shoot and reload, shoot and reload.” He has a passion for working on handguns and rifles and is considering getting into clay bird shooting.

But Friday was a day of remembering good friends, colleagues and the time spent with them.

Smith started working for the Forty Fort Fire Department in 1974, and has remained there ever since.

‘End of an era’

Assistant Fire Chief Dwight Nunemacher presented Smith with an award for his 44 years of service with the Forty Fort Fire Department and then Kingston/Forty Fort after the consolidation.

Forty Fort Mayor Andy Tuzinski said he found a photo on eBay of a 1949 Maxim fire engine — the first engine Smith ever worked on. “That was my retirement gift on behalf Forty Fort to him,” Tuzinski said.

And while Smith isn’t one to list all his accomplishments over the years, Tuzinski had no trouble rattling off the level of service Smith has provided.

“To me, personally, it’s the end of an era,” Tuzinski, also a volunteer firefighter, said of Smith’s retirement. “He’s been a constant in my professional and volunteer life for over 30 years.”

Smith is retiring as a paid firefighter and apparatus operator with the department, Tuzinski said, “but he’s a volunteer at heart. He started as a volunteer and is going to continue working as a volunteer.”

The mayor said Smith has also been serving as the town’s fire marshal and will continue to do so. “I’m happy he’s going to enjoy his well-earned retirement, but I’m also chuckling because on Tuesday, he’s going to be conducting a pre-planning assessment on a property.”

Tuzinski said Smith is “not someone who is easily replaced, and I’m thankful he will still come around and offer his knowledge, insight and willingness to help.”

And while Smith has spent countless hours volunteering in his community, Tuzinski noted that “his influence goes way beyond the communities of Forty Fort and Kingston.”

In addition to being a certified fire investigator, “Bob is a master fire instructor with the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy. There are at least 40 instructors out there across Pennsylvania — and now, even other states — who got their start here, training under Bob.”

“At his retirement breakfast, at least 10 of the 75 to 100 people there today were instructors who trained under Bob,” Tuzinski said. “It was nice sitting with Bob and watching firefighters of all ages — from their 20s to their 50s — come up to Bob and say, ‘Thank you for everything you taught me.’ I would call that a life well-led when you have generation after generation coming up and thanking you for what you taught them.”

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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