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Local man celebrates 60 years fighting fires in Western New York

Jack DeGroat
HAMBURG — John “Jack” DeGroat recently celebrated sixty years in the volunteer fire service. His friends at the Highland Fire Co. and Jack’s family applauded him as he reached this milestone.

DeGroat joined the fire company in April 1954, at 18 years old, although he had been “cheating” since he was 12. His dad, the late Earl DeGroat, was the chief and he would take his son on all the alarms and drills. Jack credits those years as a head-start for him. His father held the position of chief in the 1940s and 50’s and his mother, Katherine was active in the ladies auxiliary. He married the former Terry Cupples and they had three daughters, Michelle (Brian) Wolniewicz, Denise (Scott) Petro and Renee (Jim) Smigielski. In his spare time, he was employed by the United Postal Service. Anyone who lived in Evans and Lakeview in the 70s and 80s knew who was behind the wheel of the big brown truck.

Through the years, DeGroat has held practically every fire line office in the fire company and president. He was the district chief and commissioner of the North Evans Fire District. He was awarded the 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Erie County Fire Chiefs Mutual Aid Organization. He is still an active fire fighter, serving on the fire police squad.

After retiring from UPS and the passing of his wife, Jack has made it his mission to collect fire memorabilia, attending hundreds of expositions and museums. He has a collection of firefighting memorabilia from patches and pins to tools dating back to the 1700’s. Recently, DeGroat presented the Highland and North Evans Firefighters with a lecture on fire history and also showed off some of his collection. He has collected many news articles on any fire or incident in the Derby/Evans area. DeGroat has been a big help to the younger firefighters over the years, always welcoming them with a smile and an eagerness to teach them, according to the department.

When asked what his favorite piece of his collection is he responded, “My photo of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake Fire;” his most interesting piece, his father’s homemade first-aid kit in a “deteriorating” leather case; and lastly, he said that his mentor was, “My father, of course, I learned from the best and he was the best!”


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