PUNXSUTAWNEY — Mary Ann Bosak was a woman firefighter when there was no such thing as a woman firefighter in the Punxsutawney Fire Department.
Recently, Punxsutawney Borough Council voted to place Bosak on the life membership list with the Station 20/Central and Punxsutawney Fire Departments after 20 years of being an active member. After all, she grew up at the fire hall with a family of firefighters including her father, the late J. Don Bosak, former chief of Central.
“When I was a kid, I remember going down to the old fire hall, which was located in the old borough building (located on an adjacent alley near Torrence Street), and going to the hall with my dad before my brothers became members,” she explained.
She has been related to three other family members who have been members of Central, including Rick, Danny and Donny Bosak. Mary Ann said that her sister, Julie Mondi, and brother, David Bosak, were the only ones who were not members of Central.
The Punxsy native noted that when she began going to the fire hall, girls were not permitted to be members of the fire company.
“Back in the ’70s and through the ’80s, females were not permitted to be members of the fire department,” Bosak said. “I joined Central in 1991. I had gone through a divorce and moved back into the area and decided that I wanted to do it. I went down to the fire hall and filled out an application, and my dad was not in favor of me joining,” she added. “Being a Bosak is a good thing and a bad thing. With the Bosak name, I was expected to know what to do during the training, since my brothers had already attended the course. I was always interested, but it was the death of a Punxsy firefighter that influenced me to join.”
The death of a firefighter of which she is referring to is Elk Run firefighter Russell G. Long, who was killed while battling a blaze Aug. 22, 1977, at the Yenzi Coal Company garage in Anita. A wall collapsed on him while battling the blaze.
Three other area firefighters have also died while fighting fires — Joseph Ellermeyer of Elk Run and Robert B. Bowser of Lindsey both died Feb. 1, 1974, when they were electrocuted while fighting a brush fire in Young Township, and Elk Run firefighter Herman A. Nale died in 1937.
“I was in the area (of the fire that took Long’s life), so I went to the scene, and it was then that firefighting became part of me,” she said. “It was after that I decided if I had the chance to join, I would.
“Back then, women weren’t precluded from joining,” she added. “There were a couple of women that were in Central. One of them was the late Gus Bofinger’s daughter — Debbie (Bofinger) Tyler was one of the first women firefighters (in the area). In 1991, when I joined, I was the only woman.”
Bosak noted that being the only woman in the fire department at the time had its disadvantages. In fact, she even explained that at times, the job was difficult.
“I didn’t want to be treated like a woman. I wanted to be treated the same as any of the guys,” she said. “I learned that I knew what my limitations were. Yes, we can do almost everything that the men can do, but we don’t have the strength that they do.
“I didn’t ever want to put a person’s life in danger,” Bosak added. “I remember one instance when we were at a call, and my hair was hanging out from underneath my hood. I’m not sure who said it to me, but whoever it was told me that I should put my hair up so the people around didn’t know I was a girl. The guys at Central were good to me, though. They taught me what I needed to know and we worked hard together.”
Bosak added that over the years, she has held numerous positions with the fire department.
“I was the department secretary and secretary for the relief association,” Bosak said. “The relief association has provided so many funds through the state, which goes toward the purchase of needed equipment. Each department receives so much money per year, and we divide it amongst the three (local) fire companies.”
Bosak pointed out that she also directed fire prevention presentations.
“I got that off my dad — it was my project for several years,” Bosak said, adding that she enjoyed working with kids who were in preschool.
“Most of the time, they came to the hall, but we also went to the schools,” she explained. “We simulated smoke and taught the kids how to escape through the heavy smoke if they were ever in a fire.
“We tried to teach them a little about fire prevention and not to be afraid of a firefighter,” she added. “Little kids get petrified when they see one, so we tried to teach them about what we wear, which worked very well.”
When asked about a specific memory she has encountered over her time so far with the department, Bosak was quick to explain one story in particular.
“One boy had been in a class and was either in a fire or in the vicinity of one,” she said. “His mother had come up to me and said that when he went home that day (after viewing the program), he made his mother check all of the batteries in their smoke detectors.
“It was very satisfying for me to have parents come up to me and tell me what I did has helped make their children a little bit safer,” Bosak said. “We’ve also held programs at the personal care homes and senior centers throughout the area.”
Another accomplishment Bosak achieved during her time was the fact that she was the first woman to drive an apparatus for the department.
“Having my CDL helped me while driving the trucks,” Bosak said, adding that obtaining a CDL is not required to drive a fire truck, though it does help.
“If you’ve never driven anything that big before, it’s totally different driving something of this nature,” Bosak said.
She also pointed out that through her time, she has done very little interior fire fighting.
“My calling was to help more on the outside of a scene than the inside,” Bosak said. “Interior fire fighting is something that not everyone can do, and we had so many good guys who did interior that I didn’t need to. I climbed ladders, pulled hoses, rolled hoses and I ran pumps. I did what I was told to do. Everybody has a job and we did whatever had to be done.”
Bosak added that even though she now lives in Curwensville, she still keeps an eye on the Jefferson County fire dispatch.
“Fire fighting has been in my blood since I was a young teenager,” she said. “My dad was in the fire department from 1966 until he died in 2005. One of my goals when I joined was that I wanted to make it to become a life member, which is a retired firefighter.”
“I can’t imagine living without it (fire fighting), because it has been a big part of my life.” Bosak added. “I have enjoyed serving the community and the people around the community. Being in the fire department will always mean a lot to me. I’ll miss going to the fire hall and seeing my fellow firefighters. Every time the tones go off, I say a prayer for them.”