Volunteer firefighters celebrate 50 years Sunday
Volunteer firefighters celebrate 50 years Sunday
NORTH PROVIDENCE - Members the town's five former volunteer fire departments will gather on Sunday for a parade and celebration to mark 50 years since the initial unveiling of the Volunteer Firefighter Monument at North Providence High School.
Organizers of Sunday's festivities have been working in groups for the past year to prepare for the event, which was thought up by Bill Sheridan, of the Fruit Hill Fire Department.
John Murphy, co-chairman of the 50th Anniversary Committee, said he and his friends are trying to spread the word to get as many former volunteer firefighters and their families to Sunday's event as possible.
"We want to re-commemorate it because it's such a big part of our lives," said Murphy.
This is about renewing pride in institutions that were once central to North Providence's way of life, volunteer fire departments that acted as the center of the neighborhood communities they represented, said Murphy.
Sunday is Fireman's Memorial Sunday, but there will still be more than 20 pieces of apparatus available for a planned parade from 1525 Smith St., the former site of the old Fruit Hill Fire Department, up High Service Avenue, past Fatima Hospital, down Colonial Drive, across Smithfield Avenue and then to the rear entrance of North Providence High School.
Children will love a parade that features antique and modern fire trucks from North Providence and around Rhode Island, said David Giammarco, co-chairman of the committee with Murphy and an active member of the North Providence Fire Department. Those who want to ride are encouraged to get to the Smith Street parking lot by 9 a.m. The parade kickoff is schedule for 10 a.m. Members of the North Providence Youth Commission will help run it.
A speaking program, re-dedication ceremony, and collation will follow.
The monument was originally dedicated on June 14, 1964, before hundreds of people to honor the volunteer firefighters from Marieville, founded in 1920, Geneva, founded in 1902, Fruit Hill, founded in 1904, Lymansville, founded in 1896, and Centredale, first founded in 1906.
Former and current fire personnel on Sunday will line trucks up behind the monument, which is being rededicated to the volunteer firefighters.
The monument has been redone, complete with a new inscription to be unveiled Sunday. Family members of the monument's original designer, Frank Iafrate, are expected to attend.
For members of the old volunteer fire departments, fighting fires was a way of life, said Giammarco, with sons following in their fathers' footsteps. Back then, he said, "the spirit of volunteerism was alive and well."
"Many lifelong friendships were fostered at the first station," he said. "It was the closest thing to family you had outside of your family."
Volunteer departments were where marriages and families started, friendships were made and business ventures started, said Tom Ottaviano, a former firefighter with the Lymansville department.
Murphy remembers how angry his bride-to-be was with him when he was called out the day before his wedding in May of 1957 to fight a fire. He and his best man were overcome by smoke, he said, but that didn't keep them from being ready for the ceremony the next day.
Giammarco recalls fighting a brush fire the day he graduated from high school. It didn't take long for everyone to realize that the smell of smoke was coming from him, he said.
The fire departments were gathering places for the people of the villages, each with their own ladies' auxiliary. They were also shelters for youths who might otherwise get into trouble. The young Charlie Lombardi, who now serves as the town's mayor, was one of those, said Giammarco.
Some didn't last long, said Giammarco, but "the real guys like us, we knew when we walked through those doors, we weren't leaving."
If someone was "bit by the bug, you never left," he said.
Much of the innovation within today's world of firefighting can be traced to volunteer departments like the ones in North Providence, said Murphy. They were ahead of the curve on so many modern techniques.
In the early 1970s, the volunteer departments were still alive and well. By the 1980s, they were mostly running skeleton crews, said Giammarco, and by 1989, the town had shifted to an around-the-clock fire department.
The 50th Anniversary Committee has received donations from former volunteer firefighters across the country, raising money through a series of fund-raisers. The money will cover Sunday's event, including free food for everyone who attends the collation, and hopefully care for the monument going forward. It has already paid for the restoration work, new grass sod and sprinklers.
Sunday's event will include photos and records from all five volunteer departments, with a video playing throughout and picture tables set up for attendees to peruse.