65 Years Of Service

LAKEWOOD – For 84-year-old Edwin Nelson Jr., firefighting was as much a family tradition as it was a personal calling.

Even today, the lifelong Lakewood resident recalls his childhood days, watching his father – a firefighter for 10 years – race toward infernos in his old Model T fire truck.

“It was in my blood,” said Nelson, definitively.

Indeed, it wasn’t long before Nelson himself became an active member of the Lakewood Fire Company in 1948 – at the tender age of 18.

“In those days, we didn’t have any communications at all,” Nelson said. “A fire whistle would blow at the old station, you’d hear that, get up and head to the fire hall. The first person there would answer the phone and write (the emergency) on a blackboard. It was quite a while before we got any portable radios.”

Even today’s insulated uniforms are a far cry from before, said Nelson, who remembers wearing just rubber rain coats lined with flannel.

“It’s so much different now … everything has changed an awful lot,” he said.

Nelson, of course, is not only a firefighter, but a veteran, having served four years in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. He also worked full-time at DeBell Vending Company in Falconer for 40 years.

Now retired, he still remains a stalwart member and an appointed fire police captain at the Lakewood Fire Department.

“I can’t quit,” Nelson said. “This is part of me.”

Such dedication hardly goes unnoticed.

In March, state Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, recognized Nelson for his 65 years of service at the Lakewood Fire Department’s annual banquet. He was previously honored for his 60-year milestone with a Firefighter of the Year award.

“Something like this makes you feel special,” Nelson said. “It’s something you don’t really expect.”

Nelson and his wife have raised five children, four of whom continued the tradition of being members of the Lakewood Fire Department. Three of his grandchildren have also followed suit.

“(Firefighting) is my escape,” said Nelson, smiling. “I’ve enjoyed it a lot … otherwise I wouldn’t be here still.”