We're getting ready....
Albrightsville and Lake Harmony to co-host PA State Fire Convention in 2011
by Shannon Hagelauer
for the Pocono Record
First Assistant Chief Steve Lilick is one of a few dozen firefighters who are members of Albrightsville's all-volunteer Fire Company. On 300 calls last year, Lilick and the other firefighters handled everything from "nuisance calls" to house fires to fatal car wrecks.
However, Lilick is about to undertake one of his biggest challenges yet in more than 20 years of service.
Lilick's Albrightsville Fire Company in Fire District 16, alongside Lake Harmony Fire Company led by Chief Ralph Lennon, has been awarded the honor of hosting the 2011 Pennsylvania State Firemen's Convention. The event is to be held in September at the Galleria at the Resort at Split Rock.
The convention was held this year in King of Prussia and is quite a coup for the newly elected Northeast Director for the District No. 1 of the Fireman's Association of Pennsylvania.
"To bring it up here is quite an achievement. We can't wait to get it here," Lilick said.
Lilick has launched a Web site specifically for the 2011 PA State Firefighter's Convention. Visit it for information, sponsorship opportunities and updates at www.2011pastateconvention.com.
The convention has never been held in the Poconos in its 132 years, although no one will be able to say for certain if that is because they were denied or because the firefighters in this area simply didn't ask.
Steve Lilick asked. He recalls applying for - and being awarded - the honor in January 2008.
Lilick spoke of the benefits for convention organizers of having a state-wide convention here in the Pocono Mountains. "We have shopping, water parks, casinos and there will be the fall foliage," he said, "There is something for everyone in the family to do here."
It's easy to see why this man is forging ahead with fundraising plans that others have only dreamed of. Lilick said, "I have to get the word out."
THE PURPOSES OF the convention are many: to bring attention to volunteer firefighters, to raise funds for fire companies, to bring other fire companies to this area and to make this a family-friendly event instead of something just for firefighters, which may be the most important part.
Kicking off the 20101 Pennsylvania State Firefighters Convention will be the traditional golf outing, typically held on a Wednesday. But it is the parade that Lilick looks forward to the most. Held as a sort of "closing ceremony" to each convention, as many as 3,500 participants comprised of firefighters, EMS (emergency medical services) and first responders as well as some police officers, will march from Big Boulder, along South Lake Drive and enter The Galleria.
Lilick hopes the crowd of 10,000 will include President Barack Obama.
"We invited him," Lilick said, "but I don't know if he'll be able to come."
Besides the men and women from across Pennsylvania, the parade will feature firefighting equipment and vehicles both new and old. The Albrightsville Fire Safety Trailer has won an award in competition for the last three years, beating out friendly rival Montgomery County.
Lilick's entry in the non-motorized category has been a true labor of love and a tangible example of his love for the history of firefighting: a fully restored 1860 Wirt and Knox hand-drawn hose cart.
He won first place honors with the antique at the 2009 PA State Firefighters Convention's parade in King of Prussia and second place in its class at 2008's convention in Gettysburg.
After decades of service, the cart wound up in a farmer's field where Lilick found it in 2002 and decided to bring it back to its former glory. The metalwork on the cart, such as the nozzles, was intact but the enormous wheels required a skilled craftsman to restore.
LILICK APPRECIATES THE lineage of the equipment as well as the history of generations of firefighters, just like his grandfather and father before him. Since the age of 17, he has been volunteering at fire companies from Upper Merion to the relatively new fire house in Albrightsville five years ago.
His son, Nicholas, 18, has followed in the family's footsteps and has received the "2007 Pennsylvania State Junior Firefighter of the Year" award. In Pennsylvania, a youth can begin volunteering at 14 but cannot enter a burning building until age 18.
"There's plenty to do outside of a building," Lilick said. "You can get the ladders, pump water."
Steve Lilick must answer to his wife, Donna. Whenever father and son head out to a scene, Mrs. Lilick calls out to her husband, "Make sure he's alright. You better take care of him!"
Of course, danger is an ever-present part of any firefighter's life. With no paid staff, the Albrightsville Fire Department's 25 volunteers know that every call can be one that wives like Donna Lilick warn about.
"I'm bringing in training, testing of all the equipment. There's a lot that goes into this that people take for granted but I want to make it better for everyone."
Noting that the township's fuel allowance usually runs out by September and grants are hard to come by, Lilick said local firefighters usually foot the bill for much of their own equipment, from dress uniforms to coats and helmets and even their own death benefits.
According to a 2003 report by the National Volunteer Fire Council in Washington, D.C., nearly 73 percent of the 1.1 million firefighters are volunteers. Another industry authority, the National Fire Protection Agency, notes that 95 percent of all firefighting volunteers serve communities with a population of less than 25,000, a number that reflects many of the Poconos townships and boroughs.
Given these statistics, it is easy to see why Lilick and Lennon hope the 2011 PA State Convention will raise much-needed dollars for their home firehouses through donations, fundraisers and sponsorships.
From the small, T-shirts and mugs, to sponsoring a bus, the dollars brought in by the convention will hopefully not just offset the cost of the event but will also result in much-needed revenue for the volunteers at both local companies.
"We're looking at big figures," Lilick admits. "But I know this will be something I'll never forget."