NEWS :: CULTURE :: BOOKS :: SPORTS :: ENTERTAINMENT :: BUSINESS :: LIFESTYLE
[ P E O P L E ] BY MARY ANN MCGANN
BOB FORSYTH JOGS BETWEEN five and eight miles a
day, five days a week, to keep fit as a volunteer firefighter with the Martinsville Volunteer Fire Department.
“I used to do 10, 12, 14 miles, but I cut back in
recent years,” says Forsyth, 83.
Forsyth, who is married and has a grown daughter, no longer runs into burning buildings or scales
tall ladders. But when a fire alarm sounds, the
Bridgewater resident—a former chemical engineer who still does some consulting—heads to Fire
Station 2, dons his bunker gear (the heavy jacket,
helmet, hood, gloves, pants and boots collectively
weigh 30 pounds or more) and climbs aboard a responding engine.
“I work with the driver and the pump operator,”
says Forsyth. “I help the firefighters get hoses, air packs
and other equipment to the actual scene of the fire.”
The mandatory retirement age for career fire-
fighters in New Jersey is 65, but it’s up to individual
municipalities to determine at what age to curtail
a volunteer’s firefighting duties. Some have age re-
strictions; others do not.
The exact number of older volunteer firefighters
across the state is hard to pin down. The New Jersey State Firemen’s Association (NJSFA) estimates
that roughly 40 percent of its 70,000 members are
between the ages of 70 and 90; only about 5 percent
of this group actually go on calls.
“Firefighting is for young individuals,” says NJSFA
president and Secaucus resident George H. Heflich
Sr., who, at age 76, is a 54-year veteran of the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department and one of the department’s three volunteers over 70. Heflich still drives an
engine and responds to calls for the department.
Most, if not all, senior volunteers work in a non-firefighting capacity. Bill Pinckney, a 76-year-old
firefighter with the Lodi Volunteer Fire Department, helps run communications from the station during a
call, supervises firehouse maintenance and advises the chief
on day-to-day business.
“They know the water system in the town. They know
the streets. They may know a building that’s been there for
years,” says Lodi volunteer fire chief Matthew Lombardi, 44,
about the four 70-plus firefighters under his command.
Pinckney says fighting fires has become much safer since
he first began 53 years ago. Otherwise, not much has changed.
“You’ve got to put the wet stuff on the red stuff,” he says.
“That’s about it.” ■
FIT FOR ACTION: When a
fire alarm sounds in Martinsville, Bob Forsyth, 83,
dons 30 pounds of gear
and responds with his fellow volunteers.