(Left -Right: Dale Eldridge, Kevin Fleischman)
At age 73, Dale Eldridge of Wellsville says his activity in the Wellsville fire department has slowed, but he says he'll still come if somebody needs help. On Thursday, Eldridge was honored for 51 years of service to the Dyke Street Engine Company in Wellsville. Outside the engine company's headquarters today, Eldridge was presented his award by Captain Kevin Fleischman. Dale said he became a member of the fire department in April 1965. He actually applied a year earlier, but back then he said, there was actually a waiting list to join. A waiting list! Dale grew up on Trapping Brook Road in Wellsville and fondly recalled as a young boy hearing the fire whistle blow. He said he'd hop on his bike and peddle to the closest fire station - the Dyke Street Engine Company. Dale was briefly a fire company Assistant Captain, but said he didn't like it. He said he preferred to be on "the front line."
Eldridge said the most challenging events as a firefighter, for him, were the flood of 1972 and the Wellsville Agway fire on May 13, 1980. Both events kept volunteers busy for days.
Eldridge did admit, that the death of his son Chris stopped him cold. Chris, aka "Chief 2" was a Wellsville rescue chief, ambulance member and firefighter for decades. He served while battling cancer, which eventually claimed his life in 2012. "I was so used to responding to calls and always seeing Chris there," said the elder Eldridge. "It's just been tough," he said. A few months ago, Dale began responding to calls again. A few weeks ago he ran the jaws of life at a crash. "Boy was I bruised and sore the next day," he said with a chuckle. And just last week, he was with the Dyke Street Engine Company at a fire on Thomas Road in Wellsville.
Kevin Fleischman is the new company Captain. He said the fire company is like a second family, calling it a "close knit group." "There's such comradery here," he said. Dale is "always there when you need him," Kevin said. He noted he would never hesitate to pick up the phone and call Dale for advice or guidance. Fleischman said the fire department needs members, saying "we have jobs for everybody." He noted you don't have to run into a burning building to help.
Meanwhile, Dale Eldridge says he has no regrets and has thoroughly enjoyed his 51 years...from fires...to meetings...to the world famous chicken barb-b-ques.
Regarding the recent announcement that the Genesee and McEwen Hose Companies planned to merge, he said "I never thought I'd see that...ever." Fleischman added that budgets and volunteers are shrinking. Dale's closing remarks? "We (volunteer fire departments) need help."
By the way...Eldridge says he has no plans of "retiring" from the fire service anytime soon!