Area Fire, Rescue, and Ambulance Agencies Demonstrate Unity in Work and Play
By Jane Stahl
They say that those who “play together, stay together,” and those words would seem to be the watchwords of the area’s Emergency First Responders Services (EMS) agencies in these divisive times.
In a display of unity among their communities, this year on September 11th, 125 volunteers and families of the area’s fire, rescue, and ambulance companies threw themselves a “family” picnic.
“The whole thing started before COVID when the fire and rescue teams planned a softball game,” explains Mike Mutter, Chief of Eastern Berks Fire Company, “but COVID shut us down. This year we decided it was time to follow through with the idea. We chose 9/11 since it was a day folks were free.”
Members of five companies gathered at the North Reading Avenue station of the Boyertown Area Fire and Rescue (BAF&R)—Station 95 and included BAF&R—Station 95; the Eastern Berks Fire Company—Station 97; the Earl Township Fire Company—Station 19, the Boyertown Lions Community Ambulance Service—Station 525; and the Bally Community Ambulance Association—Station 505.
“The idea was born at 3:30 a.m. one morning when all the fire services were involved at a large structure fire in Washington Township,” offers Greg Dietrich, Chief of Boyertown Area Fire and Rescue. “We were cleaning up from the fire,” recalls Cody Whitfield, Assistant Fire Chief of Earl Township Fire Company, “but the plan came together in just 5- 20 minutes."
“The committee at first planned a softball game; but it occurred to us that because some of us aren’t so young anymore, it might not be wise to overextend ourselves. And so, it was decided to plan for a cornhole tournament, maybe some volleyball, and have a picnic for families,” Mutter notes.
“We had this realization that we work so hard together and must depend on one another in such important ways—all of us—the fire departments, the police, and the ambulance companies—that we should do something to get to know each other better,” Whitfield explains. “Gathering together to relax and have fun builds trust and helps the communication among all of us,” he continues.
“We’re one family of first responders,” notes Mark Malizzi, vice-president of Boyertown Fire and Rescue and chaplain who serves the regional area of first responders and EMT’s. “These are amazing people. Watching these off-duty events, seeing them enjoy time together, warms my heart. More important, these kinds of events create moments that build respect and the confidence that will lead to better chances of success in the crisis moments they face on the job.” Malizzi, as a non-denominational chaplain, operates on what he terms “the faith side,” offering responders a chance to talk and process the traumatic experiences they face.
“It’s a remarkable thing we do together to begin with, and the fact that all firefighters are volunteers, and that some of our volunteers have been in active service for 40-45 years, is just incredibly impressive,” Whitfield shares.
“Including the families allows everyone to know who we’re dealing with in our work. When we come home, and I mention ‘Mike,’ now there’s a face to a name. Plus, families and girlfriends, for example, are always left at home when the call comes in; we’re out the door with no explanation. Having time at the picnic, where everyone can get to know one another, allows our families to know the ‘brotherhood and sisterhood’—of our work family. The bonding is important,” Dietrich continues.
“The job of our fire police in directing traffic is as important as what we do inside. They’re sometimes the forgotten heroes; they have to deal with the angry drivers trying to get around roads that they’ve had to close off from traffic while we fight the fire!” Whitfield laughs.
Uniting all the first responders to their annual celebration is the latest plan. Bally Ambulance and Boyertown Ambulance attended this year. Next year the invitation will include members of the Eastern Berks Regional Police Department. “We all work together to fight fires and save lives; it seems only natural to include everybody,” Dietrich adds.
“And while this year the rain prevented us from being outside for games, it really was a blessing; folks had a chance to talk, to get to know one another,” Dietrich offers. Plus, it’s important to include the kids, the next generation, to show them that what we do is not just important, it’s fun so that they see themselves getting involved as I did at 14,” Whitfield adds.
The event added an element honoring those who did not shirk from service on what is now a national day of remembrance. “Growing up here in Boyertown and as the new Chief of the Boyertown Area Community Ambulance, it was a great gathering of all the neighboring first responders,” adds Jim Boyer. “As we reflect on all the first responders and civilians who lost their lives on that terrible day [9/11/2001], it was nice for the leaders to show their appreciation to the current responders and their families. Although the weather didn’t cooperate, the turnout was fabulous, the food was great, and the camaraderie and friendships between the Fire and EMS Companies made it special.”
“And so, next year—yes, we’re already excited and planning to make it an annual event, we’ll hope for great weather so there can be volleyball, a cornhole tournament, water battles…whatever!” Dietrich laughs.
“We also need to thank the social quarters that funded and provided the food and drink: the Friendship Hook and Ladder Company, Liberty Fire Company, and the Keystone Fire Company [that comprise the BAF&R—Station 95] and the Bally Fire Company and the Bechtelsville Fire Company [that comprise Eastern Berks Fire Company—Station 97],” Dietrich concludes.
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