The man who has been at the helm of Kennett Fire Co. No. 1 for the past 35 years stepped down this week. Tony Talamonti said Saturday "the writing is on the wall" that the younger members were ready for new leadership, and he did not run in Monday's election.
He is succeeded by new fire company president Scott Danby, who said his priorities are refocusing on fund raising and improving recruiting techniques.
As Talamonti departs as an officer -- he's still a life member -- four other veteran members join him, and with them more than 100 years of service.
In addition to Talamonti, senior trustee Henry Alexander, first vice president Tony D'Ottavia, treasurer Paul Hunter and second vice president Eric Schuibbeo also declined to run in this week's election.
Talamonti, 61, joined the company as a junior firefighter when he was 15. He said he was working part time in a mushroom house at the time, and fire company member Anton Ortaldo offered him money to go to fires. The experience led to his lifetime devotion to the company. "After you get in, you get hooked," he said.
By 1972, Talamonti had finished up his mushroom jobs, joined A. Duie Pyle Co. as a truck driver and had become president of the fire company. He said driving long distances on the road was beneficial to him and the fire company inasmuch as he spent much of his time thinking about improvements for the fire company while he was driving. "When you're there by yourself, you can think," he said.
Talamonti cites as one of his proud achievements the building of the new firehouse at its present location on Dalmatian Lane. He said as soon as he became president he thought right away about the new location away from the South Broad Street.
He said then-state Rep. Joseph Pitts connected him with a fire fighting expert named Arble at Pennsylvania State University. "This guy came down and made a report, and all the things he said we did," Talamonti said -- including move out of the center of town.
By 1992 they designed the Red Clay Room and had it built, giving a stream of income to the company and creating more room for trucks.
Under Talamonti's watch the company fielded a volunteer ambulance team and progressed from hand tools and primitive methods to advanced technology. At one point they had 44 emergency medical technicians serving in a volunteer capacity.
Last year they obtained three new, state-of-the art fire trucks.
When the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists in 2001, Talamonti took a truck to Ground Zero and helped clear broken glass from the badly damaged buildings nearby that was threatening the safety of relief workers.
More recently, Talamonti and his colleagues have responded to the influx of Latino farm workers to the community by offering smoke detectors and education on fire safety. They also brought in Chaplain Carlos Navarro, who is from Mexico, and he hooked them up with a town in Mexico to which they donated a fire truck.
Through the years, Talamonti said, he followed the advice of the Arble report, and because of his longevity as president, he has been able implement most of the recommendations. As evidence of this, he said, the company has been selected by the Fire Apparatus Manufacturing Association to make a presentation about its success next year.
Last Saturday, Talamonti met with Alexander and D'Ottavia for breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn -- as he does frequently -- to talk about old times.
They recalled significant fires, close calls with danger, humorous incidents and the antics of their three Dalmatians.
D'Ottavia, 57, joined the company when he was 19. He said the technology of ambulance service has progressed with amazing speed in the years he's been with the fire company. "We used to carry a first aid kit," he said.
Talamonti added that doctors Jackson, Hoobler and McKinstry used to come out to accidents and help administer first aid. "But we had a meeting in the 1970s, and the doctors said they would come out, but the best thing to do was get [victims] to the hospital fast," he said. That was an impetus to improving ambulance technology, he said.
They talked about fires that demanded much from them, physically and mentally. There was a junkyard fire that lasted five days, and a call to the old Peter Lumber building where flames engulfed the supply facility and then singed the adjacent office in just six minutes. The fire that destroyed Sunnydell Foods along West Cypress Street last January was the hottest and most intense fire they ever had, Talamonti said.
Alexander, 61, talked about the challenges firefighters face, especially when the bell goes off in the middle of the night. "You wonder what the hell you're doing sometimes," he said. He recalled nights so cold that they went to fight fires and had to return the next day to dig the hoses out of the ice.
The fire company has had three Dalmatians, all of them now deceased. D'Ottavia said the first, Dowser, was perhaps the smartest. Like his successors, he lived in the firehouse, and, for some intuitive or high-pitched sound sense, he could tell even before the fire bell sounded that there was about to be a call. "When Dowser got up, we knew we were going to a fire," he said.
The next Dalmatian was Blazer, a large dog that they described as a "knucklehead."
Tiller, who died recently from liver cancer, was fiercely loyal to Talamonti. When Talamonti went on trips, Tiller would sleep with his master's socks. D'Ottavia said Tiller always knew he was a parade dog, and he handled public displays well.
What does the future hold for Talamonti and his colleagues?
They are still members of the fire company, and he said it's sometimes easier to address issues from "the other side of the table."
They are satisfied that they have created a sturdy base for their successors, and they are proud of their accomplishments.
"When everybody puts their head on their pillow, they can feel safe that they're protected by the Kennett Fire Co.," Talamonti said.