For the past 10 years or so, the Palmyra Fire Department has awarded one department volunteer with the annual Firefighter of the Year honor, an effort to recognize and honor someone who has gone above and beyond to serve the community.
This year’s recipient, according to Chief Howard Dreby Jr, is someone every department wishes they had more of.
“I could take another 20 of him,” said Dreby of John Skowronski, a 40-year volunteer in the department. “That’s how respected he is and how hard he works; he’s the type of guy that every fire company should have.”
Skowronski grew up around the department, with his dad having been a volunteer as well. Since there was no junior program when he was growing up, Skowronski had to wait until he was 18 to sign on as a volunteer and get involved. It was something he’d always looked forward to doing.
“I’ve been hanging around the firehouse my entire life,” he recounted. “My dad was a firefighter in Palmyra, so I was always there when I could be. Every year, when they would clean the trucks for parades and stuff, I would come down and help.
“When the sirens went off around town,” Skowronski added, “I would run to the window to see if I could see the fire trucks come by. I just got a real passion for it growing up as a child and I just couldn’t wait to turn 18 to be able to join.”
Skowronski served for years as a traditional firefighter, working on the interior of fires. He served as chief for a brief time before landing the role of captain, a title he has held for the past two-and-a-half years.
Nowadays, the calls he specifically responds to mostly involve rescues that require vehicle extrication after motor-vehicle accidents. Besides that, Dreby said Skowronski fills a vital role that allows for the continued performance of the Palmyra department.
“As captain of the station, he does a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make sure all the tools and equipment are ready to go when they’re needed,” the chief noted. “Meanwhile, he’s also the treasurer of the Independent Fire Company No. 1, which is the business side of the [department], so it’s a lot of work. He’s like our go to guy when we need something done, because he’s good at a lot of different things that help us keep running smoothly.”
Given the Palmyra Fire Department is all-volunteer, members like Skowronski provide the borough and community with a valuable resource, all while leading their own lives and working in other careers.
“He works his own 9-to-5 job, and then comes here afterwards to do all this other stuff,” Dreby said. “He’s the perfect example of what a volunteer means to an organization.”
Skowronski said he hasn’t volunteered with the department for the past 40 years for any potential recognition or honor, but it feels good to be recognized nonetheless, and his work is a single component of a larger team that continues to excel.
“It’s an honor to be a member of this department in general, but to be recognized by the department for the work that you do in this way is an honor as well,” he related. “We’re there to serve the community in their greatest time of need, when they’re probably having their worst days … When they call the fire department, they expect the greatest service possible. And that’s what I and we are striving for.
“I was recognized this year, but it requires plenty of dedicated volunteers putting in a bunch of time and effort,” Skowronski added.
Fire departments across South Jersey always seek volunteers. Those interested are encouraged to visit the Palmyra Fire Department website and fill out a volunteer application.