by Susan Mikula Campbell
Some 1,000 volunteer firefighters, fire police and emergency medical services personnel are expected to arrive in Wheatfield next week for the 115th annual Western New York Volunteer Fireman's Association Convention.
Coming from the 300-plus fire companies in the 11 counties served by WNYVFA, they will be gathering on the grounds of Wheatfield Town Hall from Wednesday, July 23, to Saturday, July 26, for convention activities such as meetings, training seminars, awards presentations, vendor displays/demonstrations, and a memorial service. Some attendees will even be camping out in the "tent city" to be built on the grounds.
The public is invited to come watch some of the fun activities planned, including a parade, competitive games and music.
The very first WNYVFA convention was held in Lockport. This year's official convention host is Wheatfield's St. Johnsburg Volunteer Fire Co., which also played host in 1993 and 2005. This year, St. Johnsburg proudly boasts one of its 20-year members as the first female president of WNYVFA in the organization's 115-year history - Wendi Walker.
Serving the Western New York organization is a family tradition for Walker. Her uncle and her father are former WNYVFA presidents. Walker is also a life member of Tri-Community Ambulance, a paramedic at Twin City Ambulance and has been a dispatcher for the Niagara County Sheriff's Office for the past eight years.
Walker will be marching with the WNYVFA top three officers in the annual convention Firemen's Parade on Friday, July 25. The parade is one of the highlights of the convention and one of the events open to the public. It also will showcase the WNYVFA Queen, Princess and Little Lady, plus lots of fire equipment.
"It's a great thing for kids that love fire trucks," Walker said.
The parade, which begins at 7 p.m. at Ward and Homeyer roads, will go north down Ward to Church Road, ending at the beer tent on the grounds behind Town Hall. During the parade, Ward (from Ruie Road to Niagara Falls Boulevard), Homeyer and Church Roads will be closed.
Other events to be open to the public are:
•Wednesday, July 23, performance by the Two or Less Band at 8 p.m. in the beer tent.
•Thursday, July 24, performance by John Valby ("Dr. Dirty") at 6 p.m. This event will be at the St. Johnsburg firehall. Admission is $15. At 8 p.m., the public can join convention attendees to hear the Black Widow band at the beer tent.
•Friday, July 25, will feature a full slate of fun events shared with the public, beginning with firefighter games at noon at the St. John Lutheran Church athletic field, the parade at 7 p.m., a fire truck pull by the beer tent at 8:30 p.m. and the band 90 West at 9 p.m. in the beer tent.
The games will include water ball, which Walker describes as almost like basketball. Two teams with hoses fight to send a ball on a line to one end of the field or the other to score. Other games test speed and agility, skills needed for quick response in a real fire.
"It's a good time for firefighters just to be able to kick back, relax and enjoy themselves," Walker said of the convention, adding that it will also bring extra revenue to local hotels, restaurants, stores and attractions.
Mike Kislack and Tim Pytlik from St. Johnsburg are general chairmen of the convention.
Kislack said not only is the convention a great chance for Western New York firefighters to get together to share information and fun, but the public events may serve as a recruitment tool for local volunteer fire companies that are always looking for new members.
"We really would love the public to come out to see what it's all about," Kislack said.