Come to the Firemen’s Festival! At Kauneonga Lake!

1 Jan

Anyone who stayed in White Lake and Kauneonga Lake in the 1950s, 1960s and early 70s remember the excitement that led up to the Fireman’s Festival. Even as I write these words I can hear the cry of the volunteer firemen as they drove up and down Route 55 and West Shore Road calling out: “Come to the Firemen’s Festival. This weekend! Come support the Firemen’s Festival.”

I still hear how they drew out the words “Fi- re- men’s – Fes-ti-val!” It was a lovely chant! And gave us so much joy when we heard it. The Firemen’s Festival was a highlight of the summer months.

Each year the volunteer firemen hosted a fundraiser on the empty lot in front of the elementary school that bordered the towns of Kauneonga Lake and White Lake. I was always so excited to go!

First were the signs around town telling us when the Firemen’s Festival would be held. Then the week before, the firemen on the truck would go through town letting us know exactly when. We all knew where.

It was an important fundraiser for these very important men (mainly men then) who helped so many!

At the Firemen’s Festival were all sorts of festival games like ring toss and hitting a weight to make it go to the top of the tower. There was a man who guessed your age.   There was food. There were prizes. There were so many people. It was a great time for all. I remember walking around with my parents and meeting up with friends, at which point we deserted our parents.   With a few dollars in your pocket you had enough money for activities to last the day.

The volunteer firemen had a significant role in the community. Now only did they fight fires, but they also came to the rescue of anyone who was in peril of drowning. At least once each summer the sirens would go off and the many trucks and cars of the volunteers headed toward the lake and the fire station. The volunteer firemen stopped whatever they were doing to help. They could not always save the person, but they tried.

They also had the firemen’s beach, which was located next to the ramp where people could put their boats in the lake on the Kauneonga Lake side. It was close to the fire station, just at the edge of the lake. It was where the firemen and their families could come to enjoy the lake.

The Firemen’s Festival was a way for them to raise the money to keep the station going and upgrade equipments as needed. They took no pay. It was just community members coming together to help. The way it is in many small towns.

Their coming together saved my father’s life in the early 1990s. There was no longer a Firemen’s Festival. The fairgrounds are now covered in knee-high weeds. But there is still a volunteer fire department.

In 1991 my Dad decided to cut some branches off the trees lining our driveway. At first my Mom and sister and her husband, Jerry, helped. But after a while, my Mom and sister decided to walk down the road to visit family. By that time the bungalow colony was closed, but people, including some family members had purchased all the bungalows. Jerry, who had poison ivy, took a nap.

Even though my Mom told my Dad to stop cutting while they were all busy, he did not listen. They are high trees. My Dad fell off the ladder and was knocked unconscious with a fractured skull.   When he did not show up to pick up my Mom and sister as planned, they called the house. They woke Jerry, who went outside and found Dad unconscious under a tree. He called 911.

The volunteered firemen responded. My sister said they saw cars flying past the bungalows and knew something was very wrong even before Jerry called them back. My Mom knew it was my Dad. My aunt or perhaps my cousins quickly drove them up to the house, where by this time many firemen and EMTs had gathered to stablize my Dad and get him to a hospital. Their cars lined our driveway.

Although he was first taken to the regional hospital in Harris, near Liberty, where he was further stabilized, his condition was so dire, he had to be taken to another hospital by ambulance. He was unconscious for a week. But he survived for another 18 years. Thanks to the firemen.

So whenever I think of the Firemen’s Festival, I always think of the firemen who years later were still helping those in need. I feel badly that the event to raise money for the firemen is no longer held. The Firemen’s Festival was a wonderful way to raise money and provide a wonderful summer activity. But with the changing nature of the bungalow colonies it was no longer feasible.

The work and the importance of the Volunteer Fire Department should never be undervalued. They deserve our thanks and high praise.

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2 Responses to “Come to the Firemen’s Festival! At Kauneonga Lake!”

  1. Bob Striet January 1, 2015 at 7:53 pm #

    In 1991 there was NO 911 in Sullivan county, that never came about untill 2000, and the hospital was located in Harris, Not Liberty

    • zicharon January 1, 2015 at 8:04 pm #

      I always thought it was in Liberty. But Harris it is. I will fix it. Thank you. I know he called an emergency number. Since I don’t know who he called, I will leave 911 as people will know what I mean.

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