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Lewes, Delaware
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April 16, 2013     Cape Gazette
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e 12 TUESDAY, APRIL 16 - THURSDAY, APRIL 18, 2013 Cape Gazette Saltwater Portrait )) Dirks and Fitch: 50 years of service By Henry J. Evans Jr. hevans@capegazette.com Many kids say they want to be firefighters when they grow up. Some do, fire marshals on the scene who determined an overheated chimney near the ceiling started the fire. Newspaper reports estimated damages at $450,000. "It was really cold; our lines were freezing in the streets," Fitch said. Dirks and Fitch grew up liv- ing on Lewes Beach. Both men but few are fire fighters while said they enjoyed small-town they're still growing up. life and were among the first Pete Dirks and Phil Fitch three selected to serve as junior were 17 years old when they fire fighters. The third person started slipping into their bun- was Lou Rickards, who was ker gear - a heavy protective killed in an auto accident in coat, suspender pants, pull-on 2002 while driving to a fire- boots, and helmets - and climb fighters' convention. aboard a Lewes Fire Depart- T.A. Shipley was the fire- ment engine to speed off and fighter who started and took put out fires, charge of the junior program, Both were junior firefighters Dirks said. when put to the test in Octo- "I give him credit for every- ber 1962, battling the Avenue thing. He knew we needed it, Theater and A;cenue Restaurant and it panned out. He told us blaze in Rehoboth Beach, a fire from day one, the fire company that still today is locally without is an awesome organization. comparison. Here it is 50 years later, and I'll "That was the first and big- tell you the same ttiing. I totally gest one I ever went to. I was agree with what he said," Dirks on the first truck, and they said. sent us around to Wilmington The men said as junior fire- Avenue to help because the fighters they went to fire school fire was all through the whole for training under the aegis of theater," Fitch said. Delaware Volunteer Fire fight- ers Association. THE BEST PART OF BEING A ~There they learned to handle FIREFIGHTER, THE MEN SAID, water lines, nozzles and lad- IS THE FRIENDSHIPS THAT ders, and how to crawl out of a smoke-filled structure. "We ARE FORMED AND SEEING didn't have the breathing equip- THINGS GET DONE. ment like we have today," Fitch said. Dirks and Fitch were among "The way We learned to more than 100 firefighters from drive the trucks was after we'd Lewes, Milton and Rehoboth washed it, they'd let us drive it Beach who fought the confla- around the building. That's how gration. Fitch said no one was we learned to drive," he said. in the buildings, and no fire- Fitch has a collection of fighters were injured, newspaper clippings, includ- "Fire got up in the roof, and it ing ones of the Avenue fire, just went. We saved the candy Nomad Village, Fish Products store, but the restaurant went Co., Gibbs Paint Co. and several and the theater went," Fitch other blazes. Clipping photos said. document fire fighting equip- G. Edward Wyatt, a Lewes ment changes over several resident, was one of the state decades. CHUCK SNYDER PHOTO LEWES FIRE DEPARTMENT FIREFIGHTERS Pete Dirks, left, and Phil Fitch were honored for 50 years of service this year at the Rehoboth Beach ConventiOn Center. In 1962, The mer~were Lewes' first junior firefighters. "We used our master streams know how to drive. So we took a welding torch. Newspaper - deluge guns they called them off," Fitch said. reports said it took 45 men and - from the street. Some of them Lou Fisher, a Lewes policeeight trucks from Lewes and are mounted on the trucks, officer joined them at the scene. Rehoboth to put out the fire. now," Fitch observed. "He helped us a little bit, and "Lewes and Rehoboth work He said neither Lewes nor we knocked it down, got it out," very well together. Here we are Rehoboth Beach fire depart- he said. today, and Lewes and Rehoboth ments owned ladder trucks Fighting fires and losing have a fire station together on in the early '60s. Rehoboth buildings is unfortunate, but Route 24, and it works, it really Beach housed its first ladder losing lives is tragic, does," Dirks said. truck, equipped with an 85-foot "We lost two kids in one fire, Dirks and Fitch joined the Pirsch-Pitman snorkel, in May and lost a little boy in another U.S. Army in 1965. Both were 1964. "They still have it," Fitch one not far from the firehouse," stationed at Fort Knox, by., for said. Fitch said. basic training. Fitch waslater Fifty years ago a pump truck He said after one senior and assigned to Fort Miles near could pour 1,000 gallons per three junior firefighters were Lewes, where he worked in minute onto a fire; pump trucks on the first truck to roll up general supply. today are capable of streaming on the Gibbs Paint Co. fire in "I'm glad I joined- it made me more than two times as much, Lewes, the department decided a better person," he said. Fitch said. to send the younger men toDirks transferred to Fort "I went to one house fire pump school. Bliss, Texas, where he trained where only two of us showed "That was all that was left of to operate the M42 Duster tank. up. We were standing in the Gibbs," Fitch said, showing a Today, Dirks, 68, is a Sussex firehouse and the whistle newspaper photo of a corner County constable, and Fitch, 67, stopped. I could see the fire, the of the building's one remaining is a building contractor. smoke and stuff, and we knew wall. The best part of being a we had a big one. To become a senior fire- fire fighter, the men said, is the "We pushed the alarm again, fighter a person had to be 21, friendships that are formed and and nobody shows up. I knew and senior members voted on seeing things get done. how to drive the truck, but I whether juniors moved up. "Being a member is some- don't know how to pump it. In 1963, Fish Products Co.thing to be proud of. It took The other guy told me he knew in Lewes, owned by magnatea pretty good commitment," how to pump, but he didn't Otis Smith, was set ablaze by Fitch said. Learn about reater Lewes Community Village April 1.7 The Greater Lewes Com- comfortably in their ownhomes munity Village will sponsor an as they grow older. The forum open forum from 6:30 to 8 p.m., will take place at the Lewes Pub- Wednesday, April 17, to intro- lic Library, second-floor meeting duce Lewes-area residents to room. Space is limited. GLCV, a new community orga- .The Village is a volunteer-driv- nization whose purpose is to en nonprofit organization whose enable seniors to stay safely and members will be age 50 and over Lewes-area residents. As a recent members will pay a reasonable a nationwide movement. There survey about the Village shows, membership fee for access to a are more than 80 similar organi- Lewes-area residents' interest in " variety of vetted Vendors, such zations throughout the country what the-Village will offer is very as electricians, plumbers, and with over 100 more in the plan- high. The Village will provide a yard services, as well as personal ning stages. The City of Lewes community of support, services, and technical services including and nearby Sussex County neigh- referrals and programs that make computer support. Volunteer borhoods are ideal for a village. it possible for Village members support services, including trans- Preregistration for Village to live independently while re- portation, household assistance, membership will open June 1 for maining engaged in the variety of friendly visiting, and such things membership activation Nov. 1, social and cultural activities their as pet walking and simple yard when services will begin. community affords, work are component pieces of For further information, The premise of the Village is the program, as are Village-spon- contact Sue McCarthy at 302- that, to have assistance in re- sored programs. 827-3452 or lewesvillage@gmail. maining in their homes, Village The Lewes Village is part of com.