DuBOIS — New DuBois Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tony Roy started firefighting 28 years ago at the age of 19 as a member of the J.E. DuBois Hose Co.
“I was actually a latecomer for the fire service back then, everybody was joining at 18,” recalled Roy. “I had an uncle that belonged to the volunteer hose company, but it was just basically my friend who said, ‘Hey, come on and join the fire hall.’ I joined in the fall of ‘93 and here I am 28 years later. Long story short, I kind of fell in love with the place and the people here. I’ve never been a member anywhere else.”
In addition to the lifelong friendships one can make in the fire department, Roy said what he enjoys most about being a firefighter is the satisfaction of being able to serve the community and help people.
“That just stays with you forever,” said Roy.
Roy, 47, who began his two-year term as the new chief last month, said he didn’t have aspirations to become fire chief right away.
“I was actually captain here (J.E. DuBois) from 2004 to 2009. As that moved along, I started to have a little bit of interest in becoming fire chief, because two of our members were fire chiefs while I was captain,” said Roy.
But life takes a funny turn, he said.
Roy and his wife, Beth Ann, had twin daughters, Emma and Taylor, and he took a break from the fire department for awhile.
“Then I came back in 2015 as captain again. That’s when I realized, I wanted to move forward,” said Roy.
Becoming chief in the city’s fire department takes commitment. One who chooses to hold the position is first elected assistant fire chief for a two-year term, then serves as deputy chief for another two years. With two more years as head fire chief the total commitment is an overall six-year term.
But even as chief, Roy recognizes that it takes the entire department to be successful.
“You can’t do everything yourself. That’s the big thing is, you have to trust your people underneath you,” said Roy, noting there are two other chiefs in the department as well — Deputy Chief Mike Federici and Assistant Chief Jim Bolam.
In addition, there are currently about 350 members in the fire department.
“There’s a lot of old timers with a lot of experience, too,” he said.
Two goals as fire chief were initiated by Roy at his first city council meeting when he suggested requiring Knox Boxes on businesses and rental properties and standardizing larger lettering for house numbers to make it easier to find them.
“The Knox Box is a locked box that’s put on the outside of a commercial building that only three members of the fire department have a key to, that houses keys to your building,” said Roy. “They allow firefighters to gain access to the building faster. We don’t have to call and wait for a key holder. We can get into the building, check the alarms, make sure nothing’s going on, without having to do any damage, or bother somebody in the middle of the night to drive in and us wait.”
Roy said the city currently has an ordinance which requires any new commercial building to have a Knox Box.
“Those are for businesses,” Roy said. “I’m also trying to get the Knox Boxes onto any multi-tenant apartment buildings. This is an idea that me and former fire Chief Joe Mitchell cooked up a couple of years ago as well. I’m just running it in for the touchdown. A $300 lock box is a lot better than a $1,200 door, if we may have to break in to get in. A small investment can save a lot of property damage, if we would have to get into the building.”
Roy also asked the council to pursue an ordinance for uniform house numbers.
“If you look around now, you’ve got some that are very big, they’re in script. You’ve got some in blocks, you’ve got some that are reflective. At nighttime, it is so hard to find the address,” said Roy. “That’s something that’s going to take time, obviously, and need the community’s support to make it happen. We would like at least four inch or bigger, and somewhere right on the front where you can actually see it, not tucked in around a corner or something.”
Roy believes the most challenging part as fire chief currently is COVID-19.
“Where Chief Mitchell hit it right at the end of his term, I’m getting it right at the beginning of mine,” said Roy. “Thankfully, the vaccines are starting to roll out, trying to keep our people safe.”
Though there is a lot of time involved with being the fire chief and his family sacrifices the most, Roy said his wife and daughters are very understanding and supportive.
“Beth Ann grew up with it. Her whole family’s in the fire department ... her grandpa, her dad was captain. She knows what it was like,” said Roy. “Then I was captain when we started dating, so here we are. My daughters love it. They’re all behind me 100 percent.”
Roy, who is a graduate of Jeff Tech and is a self-employed contractor, said being a firefighter takes a lot of dedication but it is very rewarding.
Now that he’s finally chief after working his way up through the ranks, Roy said it feels very gratifying.
“It feels good and something I’ve worked for my entire career,” said Roy. “We have a bunch of great people in this fire department and all you have to do is ask if you need anything. Their response is, ‘Yeah, no problem, chief.’ I like to think I’ve earned the respect of everybody.”
At the end of his term, Roy said he hopes he can say he made a difference somehow for the betterment of the department.
“That would be the reward to be able to look back and know that I was a part of something for six years, a pretty darn good organization, and I was proud to have served my community,” said Roy.