Rockland volunteer firefighters mark 100th with parade
A loud crack of thunder kicked off the 100th anniversary parade of the Rockland Volunteer Firemen's Association in Stony Point Saturday, but the rainy weather didn't stop the firefighters from marching or supporters from lining the streets.
Firefighters from Rockland County's 36 volunteer fire departments tailgated on Route 9W through the downpours, grilling hot dogs and slinging beers to celebrate their centennial.
"It's a good time," said New City Fire Department Chief Ken Flynn, surrounded by 25 of his fellow firefighters. "It's where we can come and show a little company pride."
Flynn, whose department is hitting its 125th anniversary next year, said his company spent the last week polishing rigs to get everything ready for the 2-mile-long parade route.
"It's more to show the public that we're alive and well," Flynn said. "Hopefully, it gets that message out there and we can recruit some more volunteers."
Rockland County fire departments operate on a volunteer basis.
First Assistant Chief Kevin Huslinger from Stony Point, whose department hosted the parade, said it took about two years of planning and fundraising to get the big day together.
"It's a nice piece of history for us to be hosting the 100th anniversary," Huslinger said.
Haverstraw resident Patricia Stearns, 60, sat in a folding chair clutching her umbrella as she was doused with rain.
"It's very sentimental because they're firemen," Stearns said. "The things that they do, putting out fires, saving people, it's very touching. They give their all and they give their heart and they put their lives on the line and the community should come out and say thank you no matter what -- rain or snow."
One of the parade's grand marshals, Stuart Gates, 84, rode in an old-school white convertible Cadillac DeVille -- but with the top up.
"This is a chance to show our community not only our apparatus but to show them the tradition that we have," said Gates, a volunteer firefighter for 68 years.
Firefighters were also honoring the newly-elected president of the Rockland County Volunteer Firemen's Association, Paul Schlegel, who has been with the Stony Point department for 23 years.
"We're looking to move the association forward and try to keep it strong," Schlegel said. "Volunteers do a great thing -- I'm really proud of all that's done. It keeps the taxes low so the county members can afford to live here."
Bagpipers filled the air with traditional parade music and a pack of xylophones played "America the Beautiful."
Former Sloatsburg firefighter Chris Stritmater, 42, of Stony Point, brought his wife and three children to enjoy the day.
"We have so many in our family who have been in the departments," Stritmater said of his dad, brothers and uncles. "It's important for our kids to see this -- with everyone here, it's a brotherhood."