Trailblazers

MAYVILLE – In the fire service world, Neil McNeight and Denny Barmore are rockstars.

Between the two men is more than 110 years of firefighting service, both at the volunteer and county level. McNeight and Barmore at times worked side-by-side to establish many services now utilized today by first responders.

The county water emergency team, enhanced 911 system and stress debriefing team all were developed under their watch.

Even now, five decades later, both men are together. This time at the county’s Office of Emergency Services in Mayville, where two bay doors and plaques bear their names.

“We’re blessed to have people like this in the fire service,” said Julius Leone, county fire coordinator. “They continue to put all of their effort into making the county safer. And that’s basically what it’s all about.”

The names of McNeight and Barmore were placed on the bay doors in October, Leone said, noting training facilities throughout the county have been dedicated to past volunteers.

McNeight, 81, joined the Barker Hose Co. No. 1 in Fredonia in 1955 shortly after getting out of the service. While in the Air Force he served as a weatherman in the Bermuda Islands, where guided missile test sites were located.

“When I got involved (in the fire department) it was a family affair,” McNeight said. “Your wife was involved with the auxiliary; your brother and your cousins were members. Everybody joined.”

The Cassadaga native soon began traveling with the county training coordinator, and eventually took over the post in 1965. He also served on the county fire advisory board, a position he still holds today, and as past president of the state Association of Fire Chiefs.

In 1986, the county executive appointed McNeight fire coordinator; he retired from the job in 2001. Outside his fire service duties he worked at Allegheny-Ludlum Steel for 31 years.

However, one of McNeight’s biggest contributions came in 1991 when he helped develop the countywide enhanced 911 system. “My biggest role came with numbering the houses in some of the rural areas,” he said.

Asked if he plans to slow down, McNeight said, “No. Not any time soon. I refuse to become a senior citizen.”

Barmore followed in his father’s footsteps, and joined the Gerry Fire Department in January 1958. “I could not wait to join,” he said. “I had my application in three months before I turned 18.”

Figuring he would be drafted, Barmore decided to enlisted in the Army. One day he volunteered to be dog catcher and wound up training canines that guarded nuclear missile sites.

“I figured they had a loose dog they needed to be caught,” he said. “The Army had just gotten into the dog training business. It was one time that I raised my hand to volunteer for something; it was very rewarding.”

After getting out of the service, Barmore returned to the fire department and quickly became an assistant fire chief. Soon thereafter he was the fire chief, and remained there for 15 consecutive years.

“Well sometimes they vote someone into a position and they like to keep them there,” said Barmore, former owner of Barmore-Sellstrom Inc. Tires in Jamestown for 35 years.

In 1970, Barmore took the second emergency medical technician class ever offered in the county. He remained an EMT for 25 years, during which time he served as county emergency medical services coordinator.

Under Barmore’s watch, the county Water Emergency Team was established with the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the stress debriefing team.

He currently remains co-captain of the dive team.

“Besides their work life, which was very, very involved, they had time to do all this other stuff, which is amazing,” Leone said. “We want to highlight people who have done huge things for the county.

“I call these guys an elite group. There aren’t many names out there yet. These guys have touched every aspect of the Chautauqua County fire service.”