Tom DiPaolo was introduced to firefighting early in life.
Growing up in Lenola, his neighbors — husband and wife Ginny and Rob Konecsny — were volunteer firefighters. The young man’s curiosity was piqued and he eventually joined the Lenola Volunteer Fire Company.
Seventeen years later, it's still something he’s very proud of.
A 2004 Moorestown High School graduate, DiPaolo, 36, is even more proud of the fact that the company is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
A huge celebration planned for Sept. 10 is to include bouncy houses for the kids, face painting, balloon animals, appearances by local politicians, community leaders and more.
“The company, it’s always been 100% volunteer and it’s a lot of generations that grew up in the area and have gone through it so I think that’s a testament to the longevity of the company,” said DiPaolo, Lenola Volunteer Fire Company vice president and battalion chief and a fulltime fire inspector with Moorestown Fire District 2. “You have your initial bunch of guys, then their kids join and then their kids join and so on and so on. The Lenola area of Moorestown is such a tightknit community. Even if you’re a first generation like I am. It’s a place that feels like home.
DiPaolo credits conversations with the Konecsnys — both life members, and he a retired Moorestown police officer — for steering him toward firefighting.
“Growing up next to them, I was kind of like essentially right next to the emergency services side of the town and seeing them come and go.”
A century of service
The Lenola Volunteer Fire Company quickly became the center of the community after it was founded in 1922, the year Betty White, Ava Gardner and Judy Garland were born and the U.S. President was Warren G. Harding.
Jim Carruthers, a 2015 Moorestown High graduate, has been with the Lenola Volunteer Fire Company, which is in Moorestown Fire District 2, for about 10 years, starting as a junior firefighter. He's also a fire investigator and fire inspector for Moorestown Fire District 1.
“Lenola’s one of those communities that you don’t see much anymore. Not much has changed. There hasn’t been a lot of development," said Carruthers, 25. "There’s a lot of second, third, fourth generations families that have grown up and continue to live in the community. Everybody kind of knows each other, especially being part of the fire department. You get to know a lot of the different families. You’re liable to be invited over someone’s house for dinner, a barbeque or something. Everybody knows each other. On the street, everybody says hi.”
The 100th anniversary celebration was on tap to kick off at noon and begin with an opening ceremony with guest speakers and several presentations. U.S. Rep. Andy Kim and State Senator Troy Singleton, a Willingboro native, were expected to attend, DiPaolo added.
“After that’s all done, we’ll release everybody into the festivities,” he shared. “The rear parking lot, we’ll have a ton of stuff for the kids, including a Velcro soccer game, ice cream, pretzels, the whole nine. The adults will have a beer garden set up. There will be adult axe throwing. Bury the Hatchet, they’re bringing a trailer out.”
The main event is the muster, he said, which is like a car show but for fire trucks. They were hoping for about 300 to 400 people to show up throughout the day.
There's still work to be done
DiPaolo says they have about 17 to 25 active members, who show up to run calls. There are five women who are part of the company, including Lenola Volunteer Fire Company fire police Capt. Jamie Boren. They average about 300 to 350 calls per year, which “technically isn’t a lot compared to some other surrounding stations like Cinnaminson, Mount Laurel, places like that. It’s a good thing, obviously, not having that many emergency calls.”
“We have a lot of older guys that are still around and help out administratively,” DiPaolo added. “Then we have a number of life members (those who've been with the department for 20 or more years) who are in the area but are not active anymore."
Like most volunteer fire departments, getting new volunteers to join is always a focus.
"Depending on the time of day, it can be harder than other times. Day time is typically our toughest, because most of our members have regular daytime jobs. But that’s one of the struggles with volunteerism. I think nationally, volunteer fire departments seem to be dwindling.”
They proactively trying to tackle that issue by giving a pretty hard push out to the community saying they need members, volunteers.
“Hopefully, we can continue that and stay afloat,” he added. “We’re doing OK so far but there’s still work to be done. My favorite thing, outside of obviously helping people, is the camaraderie we have in the station. Going up and hanging out with the other members. It really is a real family feel.”