If their pagers signal someone needs firefighters or medical rescue, some Hopewell Valley sons and daughters will abandon their family festivities on Father’s Day to provide that help.
For the dads in question, there’s no better gift. Besides, they’ll be responding, too.
In these families, volunteering with Pennington Fire Company, Union Fire Company & Rescue Squad, or Hopewell Fire Department & Emergency Medical Unit is the most important family tradition of all.
Here are some of their stories:
Novak family: A crew of their own
With a house full of volunteer firefighters, the only thing that wasn’t safe in the Novak family home was dinner.
“Many family dinners were left to go cold on the table when the pager went off,” said Hopewell Fire Department & Emergency Medical Unit Chief Joe Novak.
When he was a kid, his dad, John Sr., was chief. His mom, Rose Novak, joined when the boys were old enough to be left alone. She became chief of the EMU in 2010.
“I basically was born at the firehouse,” said Joe Novak, who works as supervisor of site protection at Princeton University. He and his younger brother, John Jr., were cleaning the trucks and rolling firehoses at younger than 10 years old and became firefighters as soon as they were old enough.
“We had our own crew, the three of us,” said John Novak Sr., who also followed his parents into volunteering with Hopewell. “It makes me very, very proud.”
Two decades later, the family still serves. John Novak Jr. now volunteers with the Flagtown Fire Department in Hillsborough Township. Rose Novak has an active role in non-emergency fire and EMU functions, such as organizing fundraisers and special events. John Sr. and Joe Novak continue to respond to calls together. The father now drives the fire truck and serves as driver training officer; the son is in charge of the department.
“I’ve seen him run scenes, and it is a definite high for me,” said Mr. Novak Sr., who is also facilities manager at Cherry Valley Country Club. “Other chiefs will say to me, ‘He’s doing a hell of a job,’ and I say, ‘Yup, he is. He’s my boy!”
The pride goes both ways. “It really puts me in awe sometimes,” Chief Joe Novak said. “When everybody works together, and I’m there alongside my dad and the other volunteers who I consider my brothers and sisters, and we just helped somebody out of a fire or did a CPR save? There’s not much you can do that’s more valuable.”
Malkiewicz family: A daughter volunteers
Union Fire Company & Rescue Squad Chief Bryan Malkiewicz first learned to fight fires as a Chevron Oil Co. employee. When he and his family moved to Titusville in 1993, he volunteered with the Union company as a way to meet people.
“You build a lot of friendships you can count on,” Mr. Malkiewicz said. And there’s nothing like helping someone who needs it.”
There are sacrifices. “I tried to attend baseball games and other stuff my kids did, but there were times Ihad to leave to go on a fire call,” said Mr. Malkiewicz, now in his third stint as chief.
His kids weren’t resentful; they were inspired.
Years of watching her dad drop everything when someone in the community desperately needed help move Randi Knechel to get involved at Union Fire Company & Rescue Squad.
“It definitely takes a special person to put himself in that kind of situation,” Ms. Knechel, an administrator in Hopewell Township’s health department, said of her father. “Growing up, I always admired him for doing it. For me, volunteering is a way to support his efforts and spend time with him while also giving back to the community. It makes me proud to be his daughter.”
Now Union’s second vice president in charge of membership, Ms. Knechel officially joined the department 10 years ago. By late elementary school, she and her mom, Betty, were both springing into action for emergencies. They weren’t first-responders, but took care of Union’s firefighters and EMTs so they are better able to care for everyone else.
“My mom and I and other neighbors would bring food and coffee to the firehouse so it was there for the responders when they returned from a big call,” she remembers.
It was Mr. Malkiewicz’s turn to be proud. “It made me feel great that they were willing to sacrifice their time and effort into helping the community and helping the firehouse and the members of the firehouse,” he said.
Ms. Knechel organizes events that honor and show appreciation for members and their families, including the annual service recognition banquet, summer barbecue and the Christmas celebration, where members and families decorate the firehouse and light the tree.
“Doing these member events I feel is bringing us closer together and making us even more of a family,” Ms. Knechel said.
She also helps organize community events, including the Father’s Day pancake breakfast, which will be held this Sunday, June 19, from 8 a.m. until noon at Union Fire Company’s banquet hall, 1396 River Road, Titusville.
“These events show support for the community that has always shown their support for us,” said Knechel.
Mr. Malkiewicz said, “She’s really helped bring the community back into the firehouse.”
Demareski family: Oldest son becomes firefighter
In 1991, right after graduating from Villanova, Roger Demareski became the first in his family to become a volunteer firefighter.
“Twenty-six years later, here I am serving beside my 16-year-old son,” he said.
Mr. Demareski served wherever his job took him and joined the Pennington Fire Company in 2008. His son, Jack, has been looking forward to joining as long as he can remember.
“Growing up, I remember playing firefighter and putting out pretend fires with him,” Jack said. “He would take me to the firehouse and let me sit in the trucks. There hasn’t been a time when I haven’t wanted to be a firefighter.”
That goal was achieved earlier this year when the department voted to accept several members, Jack among them.
“He walked into the meeting room and I saw in him myself 26 years ago,“ remembered Mr. Demareski, a lieutenant. “He’s our first and still my baby. And I’m very proud that he’s so dedicated.”
As a junior firefighter, Jack can’t go into a burning building yet, but he trains to do so in the future, and he does most other on-scene and firehouse jobs now.
“Juniors still do our part. And every Thursday, we have drills,” he said.
His dad, who by day is vice president for finance and administration at Lafayette College, is one of the training officers leading those drills.
“With my own family there, it is even a little more special,” Mr. Demareski said.
There are no favorites, both on principal and for safety’s sake.
“It’s fun, but this is not a social club,” he said. “Fighting fires is very serious business and training is crucial.” Jack knows his dad is proud of him. “His having the faith in me to get the job done is a big part of our relationship at the firehouse. It pushes me to do more.”
One of the things Demareski is proudest of is the leadership role his son has taken.
“He’s been able to encourage a lot of other young people to join,” Mr. Demareski said. Pennington’s bylaws limit the number of juniors to eight, a number that has now been reached, with several on the waiting list.
“We are reviewing amending our bylaws to let more join,” he said. “It’s a good problem to have.”
The other Demareski boys are ages 15, 9 and 5. Any with interest will be encouraged to join, and the 9-year old has already started asking when he can.
“I think we might have a couple more volunteers in there,” their father said.