By Mark Reynolds
On March 18, the Clintondale Fire Department held their annual Installation dinner at the Stonehedge Restaurant in West Park.
Fire Chief Rick Brooks welcomed everyone to the event with a simple toast.
“May we have a safe, happy and productive year,” he said.
Mike Signorelli delivered the Invocation.
“We gather this evening in the spirit of our profession and our mission to provide high-quality emergency, medical, fire suppression and rescue services by the commitment and cooperative team effort of our volunteers. We thank you for the opportunity tonight to acknowledge and recognize the outstanding contributions that volunteers of this department have made to their community this past year. We also give thanks for the blessing this association has received for its leaders, for its membership but most of all for the spirit. Lord, we continue with your help, so that all our work may begin in you and by you. Please bless the food we receive tonight as nourishment for our bodies, nourishment for our minds and the fellowship we share as nourishment for our souls. Amen.”
Brooks honored Meghan Shoureck with the Firefighter of the Year Award for 2023.
“This award is being given to a woman who is exemplary in all her participation and has a true sense of honesty,” he said.
Meghan has been with the department for six years, saying firefighting is in her blood.
“It’s been in the family for many years, my dad, my grandfather, my uncles, and my sister Kaitlyn,” Meghan said, adding that she is in the department for the long haul.
Meghan said she enjoys helping the community.
“As a firefighter, I learn something new every day,” she said. She remembers at the very beginning she was taught how to tie certain knots and how to climb ladders.
Upon being named Firefighter of the Year, Meghan said, “I feel honored. I got it a few years back and said I can’t get that again, but I did.”
Brooks was also honored for his long service to the community. He started in the fire service in 1975 at the age of 18 and was acknowledged (and teased a bit) by his company for his 31 years of service to the Clintondale Fire Department.
Brooks smiled, recalling when he joined the fire service.
“There were some guys in the fire department that knew me, who were getting older, and they came up to me and said why don’t you come down on Monday night, we want you to join the fire department. I said OK I’ll join, but I don’t know what I’m doing. They said that’s all right, we don’t either. That was the start of it.”
Brooks said at that time only the very basics of firefighting were taught; “nowhere near what it is like today.” He worked his way up the ranks, took every training available and became Fire Chief in 2009. He said being the Chief is not only about being in charge of his company, “but it’s also management now because what you’re trying to do is inspire volunteers who can shrug their shoulders and just walk away because they’re not bound by the handcuffs of a paycheck.”
Brooks said on the firefighting side of the equation, “it’s about looking someone in the eye who needs help and being able to assist in getting to whatever that problem is...We don’t belittle anybody for calling for any reason. If they had to dial 911, it’s extremely important to them and that’s what I try to get our people to focus on, and it works.”
Brooks further described the management side of his job.
“I think it’s watching the growth of the firefighters underneath you and then watch them become compassionate with their job and keeping everybody out of trouble.”
Brooks is pleased with the number of women in the company.
“Clintondale is very pro-diversity. We have a lot of women in our membership,” noting that it is very close to being on par with the men in the company. He pointed out that even though their overall membership numbers are good, “for any serious event we still need Highland and Modena with us.”
Brooks surmised that the reasons fire departments are struggling with membership is because, “it’s dangerous work, even if you’re doing a car accident or if you’re going to assist somebody. A lot of people don’t want to get involved at that level and finding that small core of people, who say I can do something here, is challenging.”
Brooks said if someone has an interest in joining the department, they can come to the Clintondale firehouse on any Monday night around 7pm. He said you do not have to be a resident of Clintondale and can actually belong to two fire departments.
Now 66, Brooks said he is looking forward to retiring at some point, knowing there are very talented individuals who will carry on with a high level of service to the public. He said for himself, “It’s time, there’s other things to do out there in the world.”
Brooks took a few moments to honor the late Preston ‘Mickey’ Palazzo.
“He was extremely important to our fire department’s culture and extremely important to me,” he said.
Brooks also made note to the passing of Shirley Anson.
“I went to both of those funeral masses and when a person has had a significant influence in our lives as Shirley and Mickey did, both firematic and personal influences, you first tend to reflect on the impact that person has had on our personal lives and we as a firefighter family had the experience of doing just that for these last couple of years with Shirley and Mickey.”
The evening concluded with Justice Garry Ashdown swearing in the incoming officers for 2023.