Weekly Feature

2018-02-08 / Editorial

Pulling back the volunteer firefighter curtain


Pulling back the curtain about volunteer fire departments and responders in the Town of West Seneca can be a risky endeavor. Volunteers often prefer to keep the confidences of a “blaze buster” within their own ranks. Regardless, my goal in future editions is to educate, inform, entertain, provide a historical perspective and perhaps tweak an interest to become a volunteer.

The truth be told, volunteer firefighters who withhold their exploits do a disservice to all. I hope to be a conduit coloring within the lines to relate stories of heroic dimensions and yes, even accounts of fraud, waste and abuse. Each column will have a different and unique focus and will not have a sequential continuation unless I find myself pontificating on a topic that begs for the rest of the story.

Who is this person who intends to open this dubious curtain? William “Bill” Cleary, born in West Seneca on the Fourth of July, albeit too many years ago to matter. I attended Winchester Elementary; moved to South Buffalo, attended St. Martin’s and graduated from Bishop Timon High School; and received higher-level degrees from Hilbert College, Buffalo State and Roosevelt University in Chicago.

I gained my lifelong work ethic as a mop boy and pots and pans washer at Mercy Hospital. I worked at Bethlehem Steel in the sweltering sintering plant; as a security officer at Marine Midland Bank Tower; and as a corrections officer at the old Erie County Penitentiary in Alden. I moved to Arizona at age 21 to join the Border Patrol, later transferring as a special agent in the Chicago and Cleveland offices. I returned to Buffalo as an assistant district director and after 9/11 was selected as the field office director for the Department of Homeland Security — Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Retiring after 32 years with the federal government, I taught criminal justice courses at a local community college.

Upon my move back to Buffalo from Cleveland, I found an office job lacked that adrenaline drive from working complex and dangerous criminal investigations.

Some 30 years have progressed that I have been a proud firefighter with the Vigilant Fire Department, District No. 6. I am still an active responder, last year answering 471 calls. I am presently one of five fire commissioners, and my term expires in two years. Nope, I do not intend to run again.

Did joining the fire department fill that adrenaline void? It did in many ways that I will explain in future columns; it provided a unique bridge to merge a law enforcement background with the complex skills of the fire/EMS service.

As fire company historian for more than 25 years, I amassed a tremendous amount of memorabilia, to include hundreds of stories — some even true — dating to the early 1890s. I plan to reveal these anecdotes draped in the historic background of the time. I intend to include information about the six fire departments and individual responders in the town. Anyone wishing to contact me with questions, suggestions, photos or just wanting to share stories, true or otherwise, email wcleary53@verizon.net.

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