GOWANDA – Julius Szymenski has been a firefighter at the Hidi Hose Co. in Gowanda for almost 70 years.
He and three of his co-volunteers accepted awards recently for their many years of service to the fire department. The ceremony was a surprise, put together by John Walgus and Tom Povhe, also of the Hidi Hose Co.
The firemen were soluted with appreciation from their families and the community of Gowanda. Over dinner, they shared many stories from the past about volunteering together.
“We worked hard, and we played hard,” Szymenski said. “If you were never a fireman, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Arnie Andolsek, who has been with Hidi since 1958 and has served as town justice in Persia for 15 years, spoke of learning how to drive a fire truck with a double clutch from Szymenski.
“You had to have guys like this guy (Szymenski) around. He was a great instructor. He never said no,” Andolsek said.
Andolsek shows no signs of slowing down, even after volunteering on top of two other jobs.
He said, “Everyone asks, ‘How come you stay so long?’ and I say, ‘If I don’t, who will?'”
Edward Kota, who received an award for his 62 years of experience fighting fires with Hidi said, “Every young person in the village should take a position with the fire department.”
Szymenski and both Andolsek brothers spoke of the bond they have after serving so many years together, and acknowledged that volunteering has been a family tradition for many Gowanda firefighters.
All four men want to encourage residents to consider become volunteers as enrollment numbers are dropping statewide and the Firemen’s Association is trying to come up with a solution. Volunteers must be at least 16 years of age. There are currently 13 firefighters at the Hidi Hose Co.
For more information call 1-800-FIRE-LINE to be connected with an area volunteer contact, or call the Hidi Hose Co. at 532-3555.