Firefighter Douglas Wolfe wasn’t sure what made him more proud: the medal for 65 years of service or that he had received it from his son.
“If you were to ask me what my biggest accomplishment has been as a firefighter, it would be my son,” said Wolfe. “He’s so dedicated, gone through our junior firefighters program and I’ve watched him become a very fine fire chief of our department. I’m very proud of him.”
The feeling is mutual.
Chief Christopher Wolfe bestowed his 82-year-old father with the honour at their North Queens Fire Association Fire Prevention Week banquet in Caledonia earlier this month. At that moment he was nearly overcome by emotion.
“It’s quite an accomplishment for him,” recalled Christopher. “Sixty-five years is quite a span to dedicate to a volunteer organization as important as our fire department. I can’t tell you what a privilege it was to honour my dad that way.”
Douglas wasn’t the only member of the association who received the same distinction that night. Thomas Cushing, 78, was the other recipient of the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association Municipal Long Service Medal.
Both agree that they got into firefighting to contribute to their community. From there, it got in their blood. They’re still at it, serving as the association’s radio operators and equipment maintenance guys. The pair joined the association shortly after the association was founded in 1939 and went on to rise in the ranks, witnessing the North Queens Fire Department being rebuilt three times during their tenure.
“I don’t know what it is, you get into it and then you stay,” said Douglas, who’s served as department rescue captain. “With firefighters, you’re all brothers and sisters, you know. No matter where you are a firefighter will recognize another firefighter. We all kind of help one another and try to do what we can for our community.
“It’s a mixture you know, of bad moments and good moments when I look back on my career. There’s moments when you laugh and moments when you cry. But the good times outweigh the bad and I’m proud I stuck it out.”
Same goes for Cushing, a father of four daughters, who was barely a teenager when he joined the department.
“I went to help the community to do whatever, whenever,” said Cushing, a former department deputy chief and chief. “I got hunkered down and stayed and I’m still there. As long as I can, I’m going to hang. But it’s been an absolute privilege.
“I still get that rush when you hear the fire alarm, that feeling like you can benefit some people. Yes, I have seen some sad things, a lot of ups and downs. “
One of their proudest memories stems back roughly 30 years ago when the department saved the historic Alton house in Caledonia.
“The bell tower caught on fire but we saved it, in fact we saved all of Caledonia corner that day. We felt pretty good about that.”
Christopher characterizes the pair as “ the real deal.”
“They’ve seen it all. I’m happy that they’re staying on.”
He also says their devotion reflects a wider community commitment to the association that has not waned over the years.
“Here in Caledonia I can’t say much has changed. We’re just in the process of buying a $700,000 tanker.
“We already have two payments toward that and two more payments to come up with. That shows you right there what a small community can do when people chip in. Out here our community is behind us 100 per cent.”
The association’s 24-member ladies auxiliary recently contributed $25,000 and another $10,000 came from its bingo committee.
The association currently boasts 46 firefighters and its junior fire department has 12 members that will graduate to the senior ranks at age 19.
“I’m proud to be chief and most of all my dad taught me a lot about respect and the fact that everyone has a role to play.
“If it’s in your blood you just don’t give yup. He and Tom will keep going until they can’t go anymore and I don’t discourage that at all.”