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With Community Help, Byram Firefighters Are Back

The Byram community has rallied around its Byram Volunteer Fire Department as it rebuilds its ranks.

Byram Neighborhood Association President Mike Bocchino, left, with Byram Fire Chief Aaron Stahl and First Assistant Chief Dave Walko. Photo: Barbara Heins.
Byram Neighborhood Association President Mike Bocchino, left, with Byram Fire Chief Aaron Stahl and First Assistant Chief Dave Walko. Photo: Barbara Heins.

Ed Fox chuckles when he recalls being "the last man standing" at the Byram Volunteer Fire Department.

By all accounts, back in 2011 the ranks of the department located in the heart of Greenwich's western neighborhood had dwindled to one active member. Fox explains that the punishing economic downturn and the neighborhood's evolving demographics with more families renting apartments and working two jobs attributed the lack of active members.

Then Aaron Stahl, who served as Byram's chief from 1997 until 2004, decided to return to the active ranks and became chief again. With a campaign to grow the ranks, the department now has about 30 members. Stahl says he hopes one day the ranks will swell to about 60.

And to support those members' commitment to the neighborhood, the Byram community has stepped up and shown their appreciation in return.

Fox, Stahl and a handful of other members gathered in front of the firehouse at the corner of Delavan and Mead avenues on Tuesday afternoon where Byram Neighborhood Association President Mike Bocchino presented a check for $3,000 to Stahl.

Locals donated the money to help pay for state-mandated training that 14 new recruits must complete before they are certified to fight fires. It costs about $1,300 for each volunteer to receive the 180 hours of training, according to Dave Walko, the department's first assistant chief.

"I can't tell you how grateful the community is, all the residents in town. When I sent a call to action out to the community, I got a overwhelming response right out of the gate," Bocchino said. "They said 'What do you need?' What can we do for them? This is a staple in our town, in the community of Byram. We're there for them. In a short period of time, we raised $3,000," Bocchino said.

"We appreciate the community's support of us. We'll get everybody certified to fight fires," Stahl said.

Walko said the department also appreciates the numerous donations made by local residents and businesses to help outfit the department's interior. They have transformed half of the meeting room to accommodate volunteers on long-term assignments.

"If we have another Sandy, we want to be able to have a place for firefighters to stay in house like they do at (the) Sound Beach (Volunteer Fire Department)," Walko explained.

To complete that assignment, the Greenwich-based Needs Clearing House — founded by resident Joe Kaliko and state Rep. Fred Camillo — mustered donations. Needs Clearing House pairs donors and donations with those in need throughout the region.

Here's how the community stepped up to help the Byram volunteers — televisions were donated by the Byram Veterans Association and The Nathaniel Witherell nursing home; couches were donated by Camillo's sister, Francine Pennella and Tonya Jaffrey; Silk Screen Plus donated half the cost of new silk-screened shirts with Stahl donating the other half.

The Byram Vets —located at the other end of the block on Delavan Avenue — also have offered use of their hall. And according to Kaliko, the Town of Greenwich has donated installation of Internet and cable television services.
 
Kaliko said he also is working with the First Bank of Greenwich to arrange for loan program for volunteers to help bridge the gap of paying for training while waiting for tuition reimbursement by the department.

"This shows that Byram is back — it was virtually a group that was extinct. Byram is back," Kaliko said.

As for Fox, he said, "I've been a member for 42 years. I'm 72. It's time to start backing down a bit" — that was a moment before the alarm sounded and he hopped into the department's utility truck with Walko and took off with sirens blaring.

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