Next week the will mark 85 years of service in Howell, serving as the oldest department in the town.
Brian Prochnow, the current chief of the department said that while a lot has changed for the department, including the construction of a second house on Route 33, the commitment to service remains the same. "There's a lot of pride in helping the residents," he said.
Even when residents are going through the difficulties of a fire, Prochnow said they are glad to be able to help where they can. "If we can help bring a smile to their face or bring some sort of comfort to them that's the satisfaction I get out of it," he said.
Also known as Howell Fire Company No. 1 the department handles 22 out of Howell's 64 square miles between the two houses. With their territory bordering on Freehold Township, Farmingdale and even parts of Colts Neck, Prochnow said they work closely in mutual aid situations with not only other departments in Howell but in the neighboring towns as well.
Working with fire fighters from Freehold comes naturally for Prochnow as both his father and grandfather serve and continue to serve with the neighboring department. Opting to start his career as a junior fire fighter with the Howell squad, Prochnow said he is proud of what he has accomplished especially with his family tradition. "It's nice to know that you started something and at the end of the day you achieved a goal," he said.
As for why he did not follow directly in his family's footsteps, he said the Howell house became a second family. "I felt comfortable here and I enjoyed myself and it's a big family here," he said. "It's such a good time and I learned so much here that I decided to stay. I'm continuing with the fire service tradition of my family but in the next town over."
The Adelphia house has a total of 57 members and while not all of them actively fight fires, Prochnow said they all play an important role in the department's operations. With their numbers combined with the other departments in the town, he said everyone works together with the common goal of protecting Howell. "We meet on a regular basis at mutual aid meetings, we train together and we attend functions together so we work very closely with the other districts," he said.
Covering such a large area Prochnow said in 2010 the department responded to 459 calls and only slightly less with 418 calls in 2011. Whether they are false alarms or full-blown fires the chief said the fire fighters are ready to help in any situation. "Even though it may not be an emergency to us and we may deal with it on a regular basis, to someone that's never had experience with it it's an emergency to them."
In his time with the department Prochnow said he has seen many memorable fires including a recent that he said he will remember for a long time. He also said his time with the junior fire fighters proved to be extremely beneficial which is why he believes the program is so important.
Junior fire fighters are able to attend functions and go to training sessions. When they get to be around the age of 17-years-old they are able to ride along to fires but are not able to fight the fires. "They ride as observers Prochnow said. "They're able to assist the drivers, help us pack hose and change air bottles. They're not able to be sent into a dangerous situation but they're supervised and they're kept at a far distance away and they're able to observe and watch."
He called the junior fire fighters "the backbone of our fire company," because they not only help out as juniors but they will also be the future of the department as they get older. "At the end of the day if everybody stays in the program together, they're going to be the ones coming up through the ranks together in the department," he said.
In addition to learning how to be good fire fighters, Prochnow said it is important for the to also succeed in school in addition to their time at the house. "As long as they come here and help out we're appreciative."
Once the juniors or other interested residents turn 18-years-old they can become regular members after going through more training at the academy. Whether they are a new member or a seasoned veteran, Prochnow said the learning never stops. "In the fire service training never stops," he said. "There's always something new, there's always a new way of thinking and to apply the techniques."
On Feb. 18 Howell residents will vote in the annual fire district elections. Prochnow said depending on what part of town they live in determines which district they vote in. The money from those budgets, he said go to very specific purposes including purchasing trucks and equipment as well as maintaining equipment they already have. "Whatever it takes to provide the best and most adequate fire protection for the residents," he said.
In addition to the budget, the department also holds fundraisers to support their daily operations. The Adelphia house will just such an event tomorrow at from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. A portion of all the bills benefit the department. Prochnow said those funds go towards upkeep of the buildings, maintenance around the fire house and other similar needs. "Those are things that we as members of the fire company are responsible for."
For more information on the department you can go to their website or visit them during their meetings which are held the first Wednesday of every month at 8 p.m.