Monday, February 9, 2009

Fireman's delight at ball

By Meghan Foley, North Adams Transcript
Posted: 02/09/2009 11:31:12 AM EST

Monday, February 9
ADAMS -- Firefighters representing eight towns and two cities in Berkshire County, Vermont and New Hampshire gathered at the Bounti-Fare Restaurant Saturday night for the 132nd annual Alert Hose Company Ball.

"It's great to see guys out with their wives and significant others because we usually see each other in situations that are not so great," Willie Parmenter, chairman of the ball committee and a volunteer firefighter with the Alert Hose Company in Adams, said.

Adams Fire Chief Stephen Brown agreed.

"It's good time to get together, and we enjoy having other departments join us. A lot of times you'll see other departments under different conditions, and it's a good time to relax," he said.

One hundred eighty-six firefighters -- and their family members, police officers, emergency medical technicians and community members filled the restaurant's banquet hall beginning at 7 p.m. for dinner followed by the traditional grand march at 8:45 p.m. and then dancing until 12:30 a.m. The firefighters came from Adams, Cheshire, North Adams, Florida, Williamstown, Clarksburg, Windsor, Pittsfield, Stamford, Vt. and Effingham, N.H.

Joe Dean, a firefighter with the Alert Hose Company and Adams Selectman, said the company has been able to keep the ball going each year primarily with fundraising.

To many firefighters including Tom Francesconi, fire chief for the Cheshire Volunteer Fire Department, the ball
is about brotherhood and the camaraderie among them.

"It doesn't matter what department you're from, we're all doing the same job," Francesconi said.

Jason Mendonca, assistant chief for the Cheshire Volunteer Fire Department, said the department has been coming to the Alert Hose Company's ball for years.

"It's kind of a tradition. It's something where they have come to our ball, and we have come to their ball," he said. "It was passed on from the firefighters before us."

The Cheshire Volunteer Fire Department plans to host their 110th ball in May.

Craig A. Pedercini, fire chief for the Williamstown Fire District, said the firemen's ball is a tradition, and a traditions is something that firefighters have to continue to carry out.

"I think it's great for all the chiefs to get together, and the fireman to get together, and the chiefs to get together with the firemen," he said.

Pittsfield Fire Chief James Sullivan said most of the larger fire departments, including Pittsfield, have firemen's balls for everybody to get together and mark another year of the fire service.

He said he has been coming to the Alert Hose Company ball for at least 10 years to show his support for them.

"People don't appreciate the value of their volunteer fire departments. These guys do their job 24/7 at no cost. They're there 110 percent of the time, and I respect them for it," he said.

Dean said many of the volunteer firefighters at the ball, including those from Alert Hose Company, are not off-duty and some responded to two emergency calls in Adams Saturday with one -- a diesel spill -- an hour before the event.

"Fortunately the two calls we had were fairly minor," Brown said.

He said a couple firefighters from the Alert Hose Company had their gear with them at the ball so if there was an emergency they could change quickly and go to the call.

Parmenter said the big part of the ball was not only to recognize local firefighters, but also their families.

Pam Capeless, whose husband, Ed, is a foreman with the Alert Hose Company, said firemen's wives never know when their husbands are going to get called to an emergency, and when they do, the wives just take over until their husbands return.

"When they get a call it breaks up everything, and you just have to take over where they left off just until they get back, and then life goes on," she said.

She said when firefighters get pager calls many wives will listen to their scanners and sometimes go down to the emergency -- like the house fire on First Street in Adams in December 2008 -- to make sure things are OK.

"At lot of wives go to a call. It's about a together-as-one-thing," she said.

Barbara Breda-Bolte, whose husband, Juan Bolte, is a firefighter in North Adams, said at times being the wife of a fireman can be stressful not knowing what emergency calls the department will have to respond to each day.

"It's like with every other job, you hope for the best -- and a good day with no fires," she said.

Brown said he began coming to the Alert Hose Company ball 38 years ago when they were held at the Adams Armory, and while the dress is still semi-formal, it's a step down from what it use to be.

"Adams had a strictly formal ball. It was dress uniform for fire and police officers and military personnel. The ladies were all in their gowns, and if you didn't belong to the police, fire or military, you had to wear a tuxedo," he said.

Mike Gleason, captain of the Florida Volunteer Fire Department, said for the 10 years he has been coming to the ball, it hasn't changed much.

"There is camaraderie between the firefighters, and getting together is just a lot of fun," he said, as he waited with fellow Florida firefighters for the grand march to begin.

Firefighters and their spouses walked from the bar and restaurant area at Bounti-Fare into the banquet hall to the tune of a "Grand Old Flag" followed by "The Army Goes Rolling Along" and then "The Star-Spangled Banner" performed by Phil 'n the Blanks.

Michael Roberts is a second generation firefighter and a member of the North Adams Fire Department for 28 years. He said this was his first Alert Hose Company ball.

"A bunch of us got together and decided we would like to attend. It turned out to be a very nice night," he said.

He said what makes the ball special is the idea of getting together with friends and co-workers from other towns "only because this day and age we all depend on each other with mutual aid."

"As far as I'm concerned, regardless if you're a paid professional or a volunteer, it's a brotherhood," he said.

To reach Meghan Foley, e-mail

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