Answers call

22 May, 1992 (~estimated)

Answers call

Firefighter, still active at age 71, honored for 50 years of service

By Patti Wiesser
Staff Writer

Neither thunder and lightning-nor clanging alarm clocks can shake Princeton Borough resident William Rodweller from slumber.

In fact, no nighttime noises—save the sound of his fireman’s beeper —can rouse him.

“Alarm clocks don’t bother me … Thunder and lighting don’t bother me either. I go to sleep and noises are something in the past,” said Mr. Rodweller, 71, of Chestnut Street. “The only thing that wakes me up is my pager.”

For the last 50 years. the fire bell— whether it be the honker alarm at the firehouse from years past or today’s pagers — has summoned him from his home across the street to Engine Company No. 1.

This month, Mr. Rodweller was honored with a service award for his 50 years with the fire company. For the past 27 years, he has operated the fire-truck for the engine company.

Beckoned by a call of duty that seems to flow in the Rodeweller blood,  he follows a family line of dedicated firemen who have volunteered with Engine Company No. 1 on Chestnut Street. His grandfather, William J., began serving in 1897. In 1914, his father, Elmer, joined up and serviced 50 years.

So it was tradition melded with a sense of duty that called William and his brother, Ray, a Harrison Street resident who has been active with the fire company since 1949, to fire duty.

“We’d all meet at the top of the steps,” remembered Mr. Rodeweller of the days when he, his father and brother — all under the same roof on Chestnut Street — would jump up at the sound of the fire alarms and fight to get down the stairs and over to the firehouse.

“My mother had conniptions.” he said.

As a youngster, Mr. Rodweller said he was “always thrilled” with the fire equipment his father showed him as early firefighting training was passed from father to son.

Since he became an official fire-fighter in 1942, Mr. Rodweller said he has witnessed many fires. seen firefighting apparatus improve and noticed a dwindling of volunteers active in the fire company.

Discussing the fires he has encountered over the last five decades, he commented, -They’re all the same — all bad.”

One that stands out in his mind occurred in 1977 on Witherspoon and Spring streets when the Benson Building burned down.

It had been cold that early morning when the fire was discovered at the comer building at 4 a.m.

“We were hooked up to a hydrant right in front of the building.” he said.

As the fire began to envelop the whole building, firefighters became concerned that it would topple in flames on the fire truck that was “right there,” said Mr. Rodweller, a former Princeton Fire Department chief.

“So we took an ax and chopped the suction hose from the hydrant to the truck so we could free the truck before the building collapsed on it.” he added.

Kevin T. Delaney, president of the fire company, described working with Mr. Rodweller as “a great experience.”

Mr. Delaney, who presented the firefighter with the 50-year service award, added, “He’s been a leader here. All the firemen look up to him … I hope he can go another 50 years.

Mr. Rodweller, the father of seven and grandfather of 15, said his only regret in receiving the reward was that his wife, lean, couldn’t share the honor with him. Mrs. Rodweller. was as active in the local first aid and rescue squad auxiliary, died on Thanksgiving.

Mr. Rodweller, who is retired from New Jersey Bell and enjoys fishing, called his work in the fire company lain which he responds to most of the 175 calls of the fire company’s alarms— rewarding.

“The only compensation I get out of here is to do something for people they can’t do for themselves.” he said.

Staff photo by Mark Czajkowski

For the last 50 years, the fire bell has summoned William Rodweller from his Princeton Borough home across the street to Engine Company No. 1.

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