FEASTERVILLE, Pa. — When you hear the fire siren go off and you see volunteer firefighters with their blue lights heading toward their respective fire halls, no matter what the time of day or night, do you know the dedication required for this selfless service? One Punxsutawney native does.
Recently, Joe Lanzendorfer, was honored in Feasterville, Pa,. for his 55 years of service in the Feasterville Volunteer Fire Company. A brass plaque in his honor was affixed on the new Ford F-550 utility vehicle that was placed into service recently.
"I'm lucky at my age to still be around, as many of my fellow firefighters have passed on to the big fire hall in the sky," Lanzendorfer said, adding that he is still active in helping the fire company any way that he can, but he doesn't answer fire calls anymore at age 90.
He said that he graduated from Punxsutawney High School in 1941, and following graduation, he moved to Philadelphia and lived with his uncle and was able to gain employment in the Navy yard.
"When I left Punxsy, I made Philly my home. After that, I went to work for a machine company which constructed all kinds of subterfuge machines for submarines, water purification machines that transformed salt water into drinking water," he said. "Then I took up an apprenticeship at a machine shop operating lathes, which was a very interesting job that I retired from in 1988."
Lanzendorfer then moved to the outskirts of Philly to Feasterville, and he has lived there ever since.
"When I moved up here, I met some people who persuaded me to join the fire company and introduced me to all of the members," he said.
"Several years ago my wife, Louise, and I got a place in Florida and live down there in the winter months," Lanzendorfer said, adding that he enjoys getting away from the cold weather.
He said Louise is a native New Yorker, and he met her when he moved from Philadelphia.
"I've been married to Louise for 25 years; she is my second wife. My first wife died of cancer and we were married 35 years," he said. "I have three children: two girls and a boy, Dan, who was also active in the fire company, while he was around town. Then he went away to college and came back and joined the police department that he's retired from now.”
Lanzendorfer said his sister Ann Jordan still lives in Punxsy and was married to Don Jordan, who was very active in the Punxsutawney Fire Department.
"He was a radio dispatcher in Brookville, a police dispatcher for the Punxsy Police Department and owned a sporting goods shop in Punxsy," Lanzendorfer said.
"Unfortunatley, he died of Parkinson's disease. I enjoyed talking to him about the fire company," he said. "Don spent a lot of years in the Central Fire Department and was the fire chief too."
Lanzendorfer said that Don and Ann lived above the Jordan (Fait) Funeral Home and even housed one of the fire trucks in the garage of the funeral home.
"In Feasterville, the calls were dispatched out of our individual homes before the county took it over," he said. "At one time, I had one of the fire phones in my house, along with another firefighter, and we took turns being home on the weekend to handle the fire calls that would come in."
Lanzendorfer said he attended various fire schools in Doylestown, Pa., as the assistant fire chief took him under his wing and took him to all of the various fire schools and training.
"I went to everything. I was assistant chief for three years, president, secretary to the trustees and secretary for the relief association of the state and county," Lanzendorfer said, adding that 15 years ago, the department had to build a new firehouse to accommodate the Mack 85-foot aerial ladder truck that wouldn't fit in the old fire hall.
"Then the question came up as to how we were going to pay for the ladder truck," he said. "I said, ‘Let’s start by having a teenage dance at our hall.’ We took turns spinning the hits as we charged the kids 50 cents, and we would pack them in."
Lanzendorfer said that over three years, the department made enough money to pay for the entire ladder truck.
"That truck cost about $65,000 back then," he said. "We just got another new aerial that was $800,000."
Feasterville also has two pumpers and a utility truck.
Lanzendorfer said when the department dedicated the new utility truck to him, members kept it a secret.
"They called me and asked me to ride in the parade and put me in this brand-new utility truck," Lanzendorfer said. "After the parade, they had hot dogs, drinks and donuts.
"Later, the chief said they were dedicating the utility to our oldest member, which was me. I was so touched I almost cried.”
According to Lanzendorfer, it takes a specific type of person to be a volunteer firefighter.
"It takes a lot of time — all of those calls at 3 a.m., you're a different breed," Lanzendorfer said. "We've lost four members that died while fighting fires: two from heart attacks and one while he was driving a truck, an old Ward Lafrance truck, and went off the road and hit a pole."
He said there are major changes in how fires are battled today compared to when he first joined the company years ago.
"When I first joined up, very rarely did we wear a mask or Scott air pack," he said. "With all the toxic materials found in the home today, all firefighters must wear a mask."
Lanzendorfer said the the coats they wore were made of rubber. Today, the turnout gear is constructed of fire-preventive material, which shows how far the industry has advanced.
"I'm so appreciative of the dedication of our members, which now include six women," he said. "When they dedicated this truck to me following the parade, and the plaque was covered with coats with my name on it, it brought me to tears.”
To Lanzendorfer, being a volunteer firefighter is worth the hard work.
"I would come home from work, eat dinner and head to the fire hall," he said. "My wife would say, ‘Why don't you just move in there?’ Once you get it in your blood, it takes over your life."