Decades of Service

CELORON – Ray Eckholm recalls waking up in the hospital with a cast on his leg and arm. It’s 1960, and Eckholm already has 10 years of service with the Celoron Hose Company No. 1.

“I didn’t even know I had an accident until I woke up and had these full casts,” Eckholm said, noting the strange feeling of being on the receiving end of emergency care.

Fast forward five decades and the longtime firefighter is still very active in Celoron.

“I don’t know,” he said. “When the whistle blows, you just go. I’ve always felt that all able-bodied people should belong to a fire department, because someday you’re going to need them.”

Before venturing into the fire service, Eckholm, 84, joined the U.S. Air Force in 1946 as a photo lab technician. He served for three years before getting out.

“The only foreign land I got on was the state of Virginia,” Eckholm quipped. “I think the Civil War was still going on.”

Eckholm joined the Celoron fire department in 1950. His first major fire – at a former church at the intersection of Chandler Street and Foote Avenue – occurred shortly after he joined.

“It was a challenge,” he said. “It was my first real big fire that I went to. The building was all gutted inside, and now it’s a parking lot.”

A lifelong resident of Chautauqua County, Eckholm taught first aid with the Red Cross for 35 years, bouncing from one firehall to the next. He became the first emergency medical technician in Celoron, and retained his status for 12 years.

Outside the fire department, Eckholm was recognizable as a milk man, working for many years with Jenkins Dairy in Lakewood.

However, as a volunteer, Eckholm amassed hundreds of responses a year as a firefighter, and later with the fire police. He routinely was in the top 10 of responses, and has received a dozen awards from various groups, both locally and statewide.

Currently he is the fire department’s chaplain, offering prayers and support for fellow first responders. Last year he still managed to record more than 100 responses.

“No matter where you go someone knows you,” said Eckholm, a life member of the Chautauqua County Volunteer Fire Police Association, where he also serves as chaplain.

Eckholm’s service to the community is well-recognized.

“He’s done a lot, not only for Celoron, but for Chautauqua County,” said Aaron Kier, Celoron fire chief. “That’s what the fire department thrives on now. These younger members see someone active for so long, and it really makes a difference.”

This story is part of a continuing series on first responders. To nominate someone, contact Eric Tichy at 487-1111 at ext. 251, or email etichy@post-journal.com.