Celebrating 40 years doing something one enjoys is special.
Celebrating four Madison Twp. volunteer firefighters each marking 40 years of dedicated service to the township is even more so.
In December, Madison Twp. recognized Robert Strassburger, Denzil Ferguson, Andy Bolen and Deputy Chief Rife Denlinger as the department’s 2017 Firefighters of the Year for their 40 years of service — a combined 160 years of service — to the township during its annual banquet held at Brown’s Run Country Club.
Fire Chief Kent Hall presented each with a fire department flag and a Henry rifle on their accomplishment.
None of them thought they’d be there for 40 years, but yet they’re still here working out of the fire station in Poasttown, and all four can be found most mornings at the firehouse having coffee.
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“We have been here a long time,” Bolen said, noting they are working for their eighth fire chief, Kent Hall, and that Jimmy Carter was the president of the United States.
In addition, all of them worked regular jobs as they raised their families and were on call for fire runs. Three of them — Bolen, Ferguson and Strassburger — have worked more than three decades at AK Steel’s Middletown Works, while Denlinger served 23 years as a Butler County Sheriff’s deputy before retiring.
Strassburger said for him, becoming a firefighter was about helping other people. Denlinger said it was “devotion to Madison Twp.” and that public service “is in the blood.”
Denlinger said he already has 75 years invested in Madison Twp. “I was born in Madison Twp. and raised a family here. It’s a good community with a few bad apples sitting at the table (teasing his cohorts).”
“I’m here just so I can see what happens next and help out where ever I can,” Bolen said. “I’m too dumb to quit.”
Over the past 40 years, there have been a lot of changes in the Madison Twp. Fire Department.
Bolen said there is more safety equipment, newer trucks and engines than there were 1977. He said expanding water lines to many areas of the township has been a big help, to which Strassburger said there were still some places in the township where water has to be hauled to fires.
They also noted how much the community has grown, as there are a lot more activities and things going on than there were years ago. Denlinger said in the 1970s there were some sports, but not much else.
Bolen said when they started, they received $3 per fire run. Now it’s about $17.50 per run.
“We’re definitely not in it for the money,” Bolen said.
Denlinger said it’s getting harder and harder to get young volunteers, adding that some young firefighters might move to other departments for better pay or to work full-time. He said some departments are not allowing volunteers to serve for multiple departments anymore. Denlinger said becoming a volunteer firefighter is a long process and is very time-consuming.
“It’s training all the time every month and keeping up with all the new laws,” he said.
One constant among these firefighters is a good sense of humor. Bolen said they’ve “seen a lot of comical things and a lot of tragic things such as kids perishing.”
Some of the tragedies they’ve seen include vehicle crashes in which young people died. Strassburger recalled a Camaro that overturned, causing the deaths of two people, ages 17 and 18. Bolen recalled a wreck involving a van being stolen out of Cincinnati by five kids and a guard rail going through the van, killing all of them near Elk Creek. Strassburger remembered an old stagecoach stop burning down in the 1990s. Denlinger recalled the four-alarm fire at the Madison Inn for which firefighters from Trenton, Wayne Twp. and Middletown assisted Madison Twp.
“That was a big fire because it had three attics,” Denlinger said.
Madison Twp. Trustee Thomas Hall, son of Fire Chief Kent Hall, said he grew up in the firehouse and has known all four firefighters for as long as he could remember.
Ferguson said young Hall used to sit on his lap when he was a small child.
“They’re always there when you need somebody,” Thomas Hall said. “They all bring something different to the fire department, and they’re experts in their own way. They deserve it (the accolades).”
After each received a Henry rifle as part of the ceremony, Bolen quipped, “when we hit 50 years, they’ll give us the shells for our rifles.”