After nearly four decades of service to the village, Saranac?Lake Volunteer Fire Deparment Driver Kent Robinson retired from that position last week and was recognized by Saranac?Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau.
Robinson began employment as a village Fire Driver on June 18, 1971.
At that time his fellow drivers were Leo Maple, Harrison Kent and Francis Seymour. Robinson replaced a driver named Walt Stahl.
An old photo of Kent Robinson at the firehouse
Since that time, 28 other drivers, 12 fire chiefs, 17 village managers and four dalmatians have come and gone. Robinson became the head fire driver more than 25 years ago when Seymour retired in 1985.
In 1981, Robinson, along with SLVFD member Kevin Tuthill, was recognized as the Northern New York Volunteer Firefighters Association's "Fireman of the Year" for heroic action taken during the Berkley Hotel Fire.
Upon arrival at the fire, Robinson and Tuthill, in full turn-out gear and air packs, laddered a third-story window, gathered seven people trapped upstairs and guided them to a room where they were able to survive by sealing the door cracks and openings with blankets, blocking the smoke until all could be rescued from the outside by the 75-foot snorkel.
This incident was the first time that this award was given to a team of two firefighters and not an individual firefighter. Robinson laughs at recalling that there was discussion of him getting a disciplinary write up for leaving his truck; instead he was named Firefighter of the Year.
Every vehicle in service with the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department has been replaced during Robinson's career, "most multiple times," except the 75-foot snorkel, which was built in 1969 and is still in service today.
Robinson recalls the first fire that he ever responded to was an oven fire in an apartment over Marks bar on Broadway, and although he worked multiple fires, the first time he would ever be the first responding driver to a major structure fire would not come until he had three years on the job, when Marty's grocery burned. Marty's grocery was located on Lake Flower Avenue near the bottom of Shepard Avenue, where Fusion Market was recently built. At that time, Lake Flower Avenue was only a two-lane road and the village beach was located across the street.
When asked about big fires, Robinson states there are too many to recall, but at the tip of his tongue, was the Pontiac Theatre, Newman and Holmes, the Berkley Hotel, Marty's, The Store, The Great American Garage Sale (GAG's) and the upper floors of the Santanoni. He recalls driving the snorkel all the way to AuSable Forks many years ago on mutual aid to a full block fire.
Robinson was one of the very first EMTs to be certified in the department. When asked about his accomplishments and what has improved during his tenure, he lists consolidating air packs to all one type. The department used to have multiple brands and systems; consolidating allowed standardized training and firefighters only had to learn how to use one type of air pack.
Robinson was the first member to travel to the Fire Academy in Montour Falls to become certified in repairing the old Scott IIa air packs, which have since been replaced by upgraded models. There have been improvements to what was a two-telephone system. Dispatch used to consist of only an old red phone, black phone and a basic radio system. The radio system has been continually upgraded; his tenure saw the addition of multi-channel base station, which gives the SLVFD the capability to communicate in all three counties and the addition of high band frequencies that help reduce dead spots in the mountainous terrain. High band also increases the effective range of portable handheld radios.
A generator has been added to the firehouse, which allows the department to maintain emergency operations during power failures. There have been many other improvements; these are just a few, but they are examples of improvements that Robinson has been directly involved with.
Robinson's hobbies include boating and horseback riding. He developed his love of boats in the Finger Lakes (his mom was from Penn Yan) and he spent a lot of time there. Robinson's family also had horses.
He states he loves the camaraderie within the department and leaves us with the following advice: "Keep up the hard work and service to the community."
In retirement, Kent said he plans on actively volunteering with the SLVFD and running his personal business, Tri-Lakes Fire and Safety, which he started in 1973. Kent will spend his time with Peg and his kitties Louie, Natalie and Lizzie.
Around the station the department has known Robinson as "Kentsy" or "Chummy" and they said they will fondly recall his rolling of eyes and distinct "hehe" laugh.
We at the SLVFD would like to wish our friend and colleague the very best in his retirement. Well done, thank you for your service to our community.