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Air unit vet Don Koons reflects on 35 years

January 28, 2002

Air unit vet Don Koons reflects on 35 years



By MARLO BARNHART
marlob@herald-mail.com


Don Koons first heard about the Washington County Emergency Air Unit in 1963 when he was the volunteer assistant chief at First Hose Fire Co. in Hagerstown.

Three years later, Koons was asked to run the fledgling support company now known as Company 25 and the rest is history. He and a dedicated group of about a dozen volunteers point with pride to a remarkable record over the past 31/2 decades.

In 35 years, Company 25 has never scratched - failed to respond - to a call, Koons said.

"We have a very simple but necessary task and that is to provide emergency personnel with bottled, breathable air so they can safely do their jobs," Koons said.

Now 65 years old and retired after 37 years with Allegheny Power, Koons continues to serve as chief but hasn't been taking many calls recently because of a hip problem. "After I get my hip replaced, I should be running again," Koons said.

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Charles Cronauer and Charles Zitzman started the air unit in 1963. A used and refurbished truck/compressor unit was housed at the old Halfway Fire Hall on Lexington Avenue and then at the Lincoln Avenue station.

The next "home" for Company 25 was at the Leitersburg Fire Co. before returning to Halfway in 1968 for the next 10 years.

"We moved over to Funkstown Fire Co. in 1978 when they built an addition," Koons said. Company 25 remained in Funkstown until it moved to its permanent home at 17556 York Road in 1987.

"It's a county-owned building with county-owned equipment run by an all-volunteer staff," he said.

In addition to Koons, the Company 25 regulars are Jay and Todd Grimes, Greg Price, Lee Ridenour, Gerald Saum, Richard Prather, Ed Brady, John Reynolds, Cecil Bittinger, Orville Ridgely and Les Adelsberger.

"We maintain a call list with each volunteer on call for a week at a time and then off two weeks," Koons said.

In 2001, Company 25 responded on 61 emergency response calls, five of which were outside Washington County, Koons said. More than 2,000 air bottles were filled during those calls.

"We may not respond a lot but when we do, we're needed in a big way," Koons said.

Recalling the McCrory's fire in 1974, Koons said Company 25 refilled 280 air bottles at that incident. And 188 bottles were refilled during the 1978 blaze at the former Creasey Co. building on Franklin Street, Koons said.

Currently, Company 25 is running a 1991 Pierce truck designated as "252," a 1999 Pierce truck which is "251" and a 1996 Bronco for the use of duty officers.

State-of-the-art upright compressor units on board the two trucks are run by electricity and can refill air bottles in a very short time, Koons said. Company 25 has eight 5,000-pound/pressure air bottles and a dozen 6,000-pound/pressure air bottles.

"They are aluminum/fiberglass now instead of the heavier steel as they used to be," Koons said.

The years have been rewarding for Koons and he hopes some younger people might get interested in signing on.

For more information on volunteering, contact Koons at 301-582-0250.

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