Working for a specific entity for a long time can be difficult, and an anniversary of a decade or longer is becoming more and more rare.
For Richard Dreby, a passion and dedication to Palmyra has lasted more than half a century, a feat recognized by the Palmyra Fire Department on June 11.
“Nearly my entire public safety career has been served in Palmyra,” he said. “I’ve lived here my entire life and my reward is helping the people here and serving Palmyra in any capacity they need.”
Dreby’s public service career began in 1971, when he joined the fire department as a volunteer. Palmyra is unique in that Independence Fire Company is volunteer-run, but it’s had steady participation and numbers over the years.
Not only did Dreby work with the department, but in 1974, he joined the Palmyra police as a part-time officer before moving to a full-time position in 1976.
“Because I got involved in the fire department, I got to know the guys in the police department, and I started thinking seriously about becoming a police officer,” Dreby recalled. “I made the decision to put in an application, got in, and went from there.”
When it comes to public service, it’s all in the family for Dreby. His father was a member of the fire company and his mother was part of the Ladies’ Auxiliary.
Growing up, he often hung around the station, so naturally, once he graduated Palmyra High School, he joined the ranks along with his father.
Working in both the police and fire departments served different purposes for Dreby, as his main job for more than three decades was with the police.
“That job was for a full-time police officer position,” Dreby said. “That was my career. I spent 32 and a half years there and the last 10 and a half years was as police chief. The entire time, I was still a member of the fire department.”
As Dreby referenced, he was named chief of police in 1998, a position he served until his ultimate retirement from the department in 2008. He went on to work as the director for public safety in Burlington County for six years, during which he also served as fire chief for several years in the 2000s.
The recognition ceremony wasn’t just five decades in the making, but a year in the making, too. Dreby reached 50 years of service in 2021, but with the fire department, those who reach that mark aren’t recognized until the following year. He is just one of three active members of the fire company with 50 years of service or more.
“I knew it was coming, but I didn’t expect all of what happened, including some of the people who came,” Dreby noted. “To be here and still be able to participate is big.”
Those in attendance included the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association, members of the community, officers from the police department, fire department members and others.
Reflecting on his career, Dreby was incredibly grateful to have done it all in Palmyra, to have served the borough he grew up in for his entire adult life. Although he’s been in the department for the past 50 years, Dreby doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon.
“It’s just the way I am,” he acknowledged. “I can’t walk away from it at this point. As long as I’m healthy and I’m feeling good, I’m going to continue to participate in the fire service.”