Local leaders came out in force Wednesday night to thank volunteer firefighters and EMS workers as the Western New York Volunteer Firemen's Association kicked off its 115th annual convention at the St. Johnsburg Firehall in Wheatfield.
"Firefighters often work to protect the things we can replace - houses and material possessions - but sometimes we forget how hard they work to protect and save the things that nothing can replace," said Niagara County Legislator Kathryn Lance of Wheatfield, one of the evening's speakers. Lance recalled how, when her father suffered a heart attack, volunteer firefighters including former Niagara County Legislator Peter E. Smolinski of North Tonawanda had been among the first people to respond.
"I owe firefighters - and at least one volunteer firefighter - my gratitude and a debt," Lance said. "I never forgot what Pete and his brothers in the fire service did that day, to help my dad, to comfort my dad, to save my dad."
The firefighters association is meeting through Saturday for a meeting that mixes fun and entertainment with the serious business of firefighting policy and training. Also on hand at the group's opening dinner Wednesday were Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, Niagara County Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, Sheriff James R. Voutour, Wheatfield Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe and Niagara County Fire Coordinator Jonathan Schultz.
Voutour praised the work of the volunteers, adding, "We speak of professional firefighters, but you volunteers all are true professionals in every way - except that you don't get paid."
Ross and Cliffe thanked the firefighters for their work on behalf of their home communities, including Wheatfield, which played host to the convention.
"We can never say 'Thank you' enough for what you do," Ross said.