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Melville, Sask. man celebrates 50 years of service with volunteer fire department

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WATCH: Melville, Sask., volunteer firefighter honoured for five decades of service – Feb 4, 2020

Before 911 calls and cellphones, volunteer firefighters in the small Saskatchewan city of Melville were called to action by a siren outside the local fire hall.

Norm Konechny grew up watching the men in his home and community heed the call. It’s what motivated him to show up for volunteer firefighter service on Oct. 1, 1969.

“Our fire chief presented me with all my material that I was supposed to have — jacket, pants and everything else — and that was it,” he said, adding that training was done on-the-job.

“You came to a scene and you learned from the guys. That’s the kind of training.”

Norm Konechny with the helmet first issued to him in October 1969. Daniella Ponticelli / Global News

Konechny joined Melville Fire and Rescue because his father and two uncles were involved. At the age of 21, he was the youngest member of the department.

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“I just couldn’t wait to go on a call because at that time we’d get down to the fire hall and jump on the truck and ride on the back — which now we can’t, we’re tied down inside and buckled up,” he said.

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Back then, the department had 13 volunteer firefighters and two trucks to serve the Melville area, located around 145 kilometres northeast of Regina.

“Our jaws of life at the time was a hammer, a pry bar and so on, where now we have the best,” he recalled.

Now 72, Konechny is one of three members from the 1969 team still alive. He continues to work as the deputy fire chief and as a prison guard.

“I should be retiring, it’s almost ridiculous,” he said, laughing. “I love my department, I love everybody on it, I love what I’m doing, and I guess that’s why I’m still here.”

When Konechny started, the department was still using a second-hand V8 Ford chassis purchased in 1937 and a 1956 International truck. Cindy Konechny / Submitted

Konechny has been honoured for his service numerous times over the years, including an incident in 2000 where local firefighters rescued a young boy from a burning home.

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He said living and working in his hometown for 72 years has its pros and cons.

“It’s good because you know a lot of the people, but it’s bad because a lot of time we come to an accident scene and you know the people involved,” Konechny said, recalling how two of his fellow firefighters came upon scenes involving their children.

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Konechny’s full-time jobs mirrored his work with the volunteer department. He spent 20 years as a paramedic and was involved with the railroad until his retirement in 2003.

While he looks back fondly on his career in emergency services, he said there were many instances when firefighters had to cope with difficult calls on their own.

“(Now) if we come from a bad scene, we discuss it, we talk it over and if there’s any problems — the help is out there now for firefighters, which wasn’t before so you took it home with you,” he said.

Norm Konechny, 72, stands inside the main fire hall in Melville on Feb. 3, 2020. Daniella Ponticelli / Global News

On Tuesday, Konechny was honoured by the Municipalities of Saskatchewan at its convention in Regina for his 50 years of service.

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He told Global News he’s spoken with the Melville fire chief about possibly retiring in the near future.

“It’s going to be tough to say goodbye. You’re going to see an old man cry because it’s going to be tough,” he said.

The City of Melville Fire and Rescue now has an authorized strength of 24 volunteer firefighters operating three pumpers, one command vehicle, wildland unit and a rescue truck.

Each year, local firefighters respond to around 95 emergency calls for service. The fire department is completely tax-supported with a budget of more than $125,000.

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