Local firefighters honor their colleagues

STUYVESANT FALLS—Firefighters from the 32 volunteer fire departments across Columbia County converged on the Stuyvesant Falls hamlet for the 96th annual Columbia County Volunteer Firefighters Association (CCVFA) Convention, July 29 to 31.

Established in 1925, the CCVFA, a social organization, “fosters and extends the interests, welfare, and growth of firefighter’s interests and good feeling in Columbia County,” according to an account of the organization’s history on its website: www.ccvfa.org

Annually on the last weekend in July, the organization assembles for a convention in the hometown community of a fire company in Columbia County; the host locations change each year.

During the convention, this year hosted by the Stuyvesant Falls Fire Company, with most events taking place at the Stuyvesant Falls VFW Post 9593, there were social gatherings, business meetings, memorial services for deceased members and an award ceremony recognizing outstanding achievement in fire service.

The weekend is capped off with a dress parade with more than 30 fire units, many with bands and drum lines accompanying them. The procession is followed by music, entertainment, refreshments and the awarding of parade trophies.

Each year at the convention the CCVFA and committee members review nominations for Lifetime Achievement Awards submitted by fire departments in the county. The committee operates on a strict set of guidelines to recognize members of the fire service who have given a lifelong commitment to the betterment of the volunteer fire service.

“These seasoned veterans have dedicated thousands of volunteer hours to serve their communities and the greater Columbia County area,” Firefighter of the Year Committee Chairman Eric Barnes told The Columbia Paper this week. The three gentlemen who received awards this year, “have collectively given more than 150 years of volunteer service for the betterment of the county and individual communities.

“It’s not often you find someone who has given that kind of lifetime of commitment,” said Mr. Barnes, who is also the Chatham fire chief.

The awards ceremony was attended by nearly 200 firefighters, dignitaries, families and friends. Those awarded were presented with a plaque, a citation from the Columbia County Board of Supervisors and were inducted into the firefighters Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame holds a series of special large plaques on display at the County Training Facility in Ghent. All current, new and future firefighters can view the accomplishments of those who came before them.

Because the convention could not be held last year due to the pandemic, awards for both 2020 and 2021 were bestowed this year.

The 2020 CCVFA Firefighter Lifetime Achievement Awards were given to Chief William “Bill” Blaauw of the Philmont Fire Company and Chief Randi W. Shadic of the Copake Fire Company. The 2021 CCVFA Firefighter Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Chief William “Bill” Hunt of the Ancram Fire Company, who is also a retired Columbia County Fire Coordinator.

During the ceremony Chief Barnes delivered biographies of each man outlining their achievements.

His edited remarks follow.

Chief Bill Blaauw. Photo credit Tom With

Chief William “Bill” Blaauw

Chief Blaauw is a life member of the Philmont Fire Company after having joined in 1963. In 1987 he took on a role as director of the CCVFA culminating with serving as president in 1996. When he became a firefighter in 1963, he lived on and operated a dairy farm near the Village of Philmont. He and another member worked diligently to secure fire contracts with the towns of Claverack and Hillsdale in order to ensure fire protection for the residents outside of the village and in turn secure financing for the village. It is noted that during his tenure he played a large part in two major changes in the fire service. During his presidency he is credited with pushing a proposal to change the name of this fire association from the “Columbia County Firemen’s Association” to the “Firefighters Association” to ensure inclusion of all.

Beyond his dedication to the firefighters in this community, he is a mentor, father and leader to his family and many in Columbia County. The CCVFA and the committee commend Chief Blaauw for decades of service and dedication to not only the Philmont Fire Company, but to the entire fire service in Columbia County.

Chief Randi W. Shadic. Photo credit Tom With

Chief Randi W. Shadic

Chief Shadic meets the qualifications for the Lifetime Achievement Award to a “T.”

Another senior member of the fire service is quoted as saying: “Randi, he is not big on individual awards and more often favors the recognition of groups or teams of firefighters and recognizing them as such. As a chief officer he never takes any of the credit for a successful operation but rather directs it to the line officers and the line firefighters.

“He will on the other hand take full responsibility for any screw-ups believing wholeheartedly if he had just provided better training to the members the screw-ups would never happen.” No truer words can be spoken of a true leader.

Chief Shadic has a body of work in the fire and public service which is unlike many others. His service continues to this day. He joined the fire service in July 1975. Like all other great leaders he quickly rose through the ranks to become chief for the first time in 1986. His career took him in and out of the chief position a total of four terms.

In 1988 he began his career with the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, spreading his wealth of knowledge throughout the state. Working hard and being a leader, he rose through the ranks and became NYS Deputy Chief of the Arson Bureau in 2001, where he remained for 15 years. Like everything Chief Shadic was involved in over the years, the unit at NYS OFPC and the Copake Fire Company are among the utmost professional and knowledgeable groups. His demeanor and leadership are reflected within any agency he has been involved in over the years. His knowledge and willingness to pass this knowledge on to others is unlike many. Chief Shadic has served in various roles in the fire service over the years, including firefighter, captain, chief, NYS OFPC Fire Protection specialist, investigator and deputy chief along with many others. Most importantly he continues to serve as a role model to all firefighters and leaders throughout our communities. To this day, he continues to selflessly serve as a seasoned veteran and leader. After all of these years, he continues to hold the rank of assistant chief in Copake.

Chief Bill Hunt. Photo credit Tom With

Chief William “Bill” Hunt

“There are very few men tougher than Bill” are words spoken by many.

When he was nominated for this award, it was a procedural formality, because in the eyes of the committee, he is the Mickey Mantle of the fire service in Columbia County, and was a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. The feedback and input from leaders in the county are a testament to just how big of a figure he is.

His most spoken-about attribute is: Toughness. Over the years, Chief Hunt suffered numerous injuries and illnesses on the fireground. One year he fell victim to a heart attack while operating a fire scene. He was resuscitated and returned to continue to serve his community for many years. Chief William Hunt, universally and affectionately known as “Bill,” has an unparalleled body of work in the fire service which began June 27, 1973 when he joined Ancram Fire Company. His indefatigable service continues to this day. He first became fire chief in March 1984. Six years later, he began his tenure as deputy fire coordinator and ultimately Columbia County Fire Coordinator, a position he held for three decades. In those 30 years, he, in his own tough, gruff fashion passionately and effectively coordinated hundreds of serious incidents. He is responsible for and credited with helping start the Columbia County C&O team. As a founding member, he recognized that the county was in need of a specialized highly-trained team of investigators, that specifically worked with the fire service and the law enforcement agencies in the county in order to thwart out the crime of arson.

We have all come to know him and find him to be one of the most caring and helpful members of our beloved fire service there ever was. We believe he has checked all the boxes and has become the standard by which others should be judged, in overall service to his family, his fire company and community. To this day, he continues to selflessly serve as a seasoned veteran who is a master teacher and friend to all, no matter your station or rank.

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