NORTH BRANCH, NY — Asked for his take on “Fire Won’t Wait. Plan Your Escape,” the theme of the National Fire Prevention Association’s (NFPA) fire safety campaign during …
NORTH BRANCH, NY — Asked for his take on “Fire Won’t Wait. Plan Your Escape,” the theme of the National Fire Prevention Association’s (NFPA) fire safety campaign during Fire Prevention Week 2022, Alan Welton, chief of the North Branch Fire Department, replied “Everybody should know how fast fire can go. Just get out of there!”
In years past, the all-volunteer fire department joined with other local companies to present fire safety demonstrations at local schools during Fire Prevention Week, but as the department’s roster dwindled, North Branch couldn’t find enough volunteers to present the awareness training, a rather sad commentary on the hectic times we live in.
Welton joined the North Branch Fire Department in 1984 as a 34-year-old, and since 1987 he has served as “a chief of some sort.” As times changed, the department had to drop Car #2, since they now only have four line officers—the 2nd assistant-chief position disappeared into the history books.
The current line officers are Alan Welton (chief), Gary Ziegler (1st assistant chief), John Theadore (captain) and John Shick (lieutenant).
“They needed help, and I was just across the street,” said Chief Welton. For years, he ran an independent tire and auto repair shop near the fire station.
His most memorable blaze was the deadly fire in Buck Brook, a 1993 conflagration that killed three people.
“When we got there, it was burning; it was bad,” he recalled. “I wanted to go inside, but the chief at the time said get the heck out of there. That’s the one that really sticks.”
According to Chief Welton, at present the department has about 12 active members on the roster “and a bunch of inactive” firefighters. He pointed out that a lot of the volunteers are in their 70s.
On the seemingly ever-present topic of getting new recruits to join local fire departments, Chief Welton said, “Sometimes we only have four or five guys show up for drills… right now everybody’s busy.”
“It’s hard, because I look around the town and there’s nobody, no young kids coming up,” said North Branch’s chief. “It’s important. You need help to fight fire. If you want to help your community, become a member.”
North Branch is a small town, he said, “and we used to be very active in fire prevention, mostly up at Delaware Valley (Central School) in Callicoon… we showed how a building would burn, how fast it would go… how to ‘Stop, drop and roll.’” That’s a basic life-saving technique taught to children and emergency response personnel in case they’re caught in a deadly interior fire situation, explained the long-serving volunteer firefighter.
Recalling the fire prevention demonstrations of a few years ago, in which North Branch joined neighboring departments, Chief Welton said, “Everybody had a job to do, showing the kids about fire safety at different stations.”
Citing the lack of volunteers who would be able to go to the local school to present fire prevention programs, Chief Welton said wistfully, “I would still like to do it, but I can’t do it by myself.”
Back to “Fire Won’t Wait. Plan Your Escape”: the chief of the North Branch Fire Department added a couple words of advice.
“Have an escape plan. Make sure you have two escape routes. Know how to get out of your house, and know your surroundings if you’re in somebody else’s house.”
During Fire Prevention Week 2022 (October 9-15), the North Branch Fire Department plans to post information about the importance of having and practicing an escape plan on their bulletin board outside Station #26.
For further information about the North Branch Volunteer Fire Department, or to sign up as a volunteer, call the station at 845/482-5134, contact Chief Alan Welton directly at 845/482-4569, or email the chief at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Station #26 also has a social media presence on Facebook.
“Call me right up,” said Chief Welton, making a personal plea to get folks to join the small community volunteer fire department.
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