The Opening Ceremony of the 2023 Firehouse Expo, the 40th Expo in the illustrious history of the event, paid homage to its past, celebrated the present and looked to the future.During the Keynote presentation, “Firefighting: The Family Business,” five chairs were put on the stage. Speakers Robert Moran, John Lewis, Danny Moran, and Walter Lewis took four of them. The fifth was set up with a framed photo of longtime Firehouse Editor-in-Chief and Firehouse Expo Show Director Harvey Eisner. Each man spoke about being welcomed into the Firehouse family by Eisner.
Several of the speakers and honorees also commented on how Eisner and Firehouse Expo changed their lives and conferences like Expo are critical to the fire service.
Hall of Fame
Firehouse welcomed two new members into its Hall of Fame during the Opening Ceremony with the enshrinements of Chief Ron Siarnicki and Firehouse Special Projects Editor Janet Wilmoth. Siarnicki, who is retiring from the National Firefighters Foundation at the end of the year, is celebrating 50 years of continuous fire service. He shared some advice that he learned along the way.
The first lesson comes from home.“My parents told me to always leave it better than you found it,” he said, “and, I hope I have done that. I hope I have passed along to each of you. Make it better for the next generation. That’s our charge, that’s our responsibility.”
The second lesson is to be grateful for all the people who helped you get where you are.
“My connection with Firehouse is the same reason I was the executive director of the National Firefighters Foundation...a gentleman by the name of Hal Bruno,” he said,
“Hal chose me to be the executive director and introduced me to the Firehouse world, and for that I will always be grateful.”
Siarnicki went on to acknowledge many people, including the board of the NFFF, who have helped him along the way and said that they were the ones deserving of this honor.
“They make me look good. They work hard and I appreciate that,” he said. “I accept this honor on behalf off all of these individuals.”
Wilmoth said she was very excited to have this incredible honor bestowed upon her.
“I am especially proud to be the first woman to be inducted into the Firehouse Hall of Fame,” she exclaimed.
“I think it is a testament to the progress we have made in breaking down the barriers for women.”Wilmoth, who came from a family of firefighters (her father and brothers were firefighters), was once told that she should “stay home and have babies” by a chief whom she interviewed with for a firefighting position.
Luckily for the fire service, Wilmoth turned her attention to writing and advocacy. Her career at Fire Chief magazine is legendary. She served as the publication’s international correspondent, she helped educate fire chiefs about how mechanics were becoming emergency vehicle technicians and she encouraged people to write about their personal experiences, including cancer and suicide. When Fire Chief abruptly ceased publication, Firehouse scooped her up that same night.
“Firehouse wanted me to continue the work I had been doing with the Station Design Conference, the Station Design Awards and the EVT of the Year Award,” she recalled. “I love my work and I love the people I work with. And I feel like we are making a difference.
“The moment of the induction into the Firehouse Hall of Fame is an immense honor. I believe my dad is looking down and is proud of my contribution.”
Firehouse Editor-in-Chief Peter Matthews presented several awards during the ceremony.
Richard Thode of the Danbury, CT, Fire Department, was given the Michael O. McNamee Award of Valor. Thode was off duty when his chief alerted him to a trench collapse just a half-mile from Thode’s home. Thode entered the trench and began to shovel the victim free. When help arrived, Thode requested a battery-powered spreader to help extricate the victim who was trapped by plywood blocked by a large rock. Three hours after he arrived, Thode and the victim were pulled to safety.
Thode acknowledged all the departments that responded to the call that day.
“The teamwork that day was nothing short of incredible.”
Matthews also introduced valor winners A.J. Hamilton and Ashley Rowe of the Gloucester, VA, Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad Inc. Hamilton and Rowe executed a daring ice rescue of a child who had fallen through the ice on a retention pond. Despite also falling through the ice, the pair managed to pull the child to safety.
“I’d like to thank everyone for coming out and supporting this great event that Peter and his crew is putting on with Firehouse Magazine. We couldn’t do this without the proper training that this and all the other conferences around the country that we can go to provide. To be mentioned in the same sentence as Mike McNamee is a true honor.” Rowe said
The Buckhannon, WV, Fire Department was on hand to be acknowledged for being one of this year's Unit Citation honorees.
Glatfelter AwardThe Opening Ceremony kicked off with the presentation of the NFFF’s Arthur J. Glatfelter Distinguished Service Award, which was presented to Vickie Pritchett, vice president/executive officer at the National Fire Sprinkler Association.
“Vickie is the true embodiment of the spirit of the Glatfelter award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to support and further the mission of the NFFF. For many years, her innovative thinking and great leadership have not only benefitted the Foundation but have promoted firefighter safety and amplified the voice of safety in the fire service overall. I am confident that her impact as a connector, liaison, spokesperson, and hands-on partner for the NFFF will continue for years to come,” said Chief Ron Siarnicki, Executive Director of the NFFF.
Pritchett was presented the award by Tony Campisi, chairman of the Glatfelter Insurance Group.
“Vickie Pritchett represents everything that Art Glatfelter stood for,” Campisi said. “We are grateful for leaders who carry the standard for the fire service, and it’s a privilege to present Vickie with this award.”
FireFusionMatthews concluded the ceremony with the announcement that after 40 years Firehouse Expo will transition to a new event in 2024. FireFusion, an all-new concept dedicated to advancing the development and application of technology in the fire service, will be held in Charleston, SC.
“The Charleston Fire Department is like the Phoenix that rose from the ashes, giving a rebirth to the members of the department, and the American fire service, while challenging the way missions were accomplished. Two decades later, technology has had a major impact on the way departments operate, from fireground and EMS responses to personnel and training management. Launching this new event is an acknowledgement of how far the fire service has come, but equally important of where it’s going in the future,” said Matthews.