Volunteer firefighters can fill so many roles in their careers: running into burning buildings; operating the equipment; providing medical help; directing traffic; leadership; support.
After 80 years, 99-year-old Paul Lang is still filling some of the most important, and his son, Charles Lang, delivered to him at Cortland Park Rehabilitation and Nursing Center a pair of honors bestowed by state fire control organizations.
“He has received so many awards over the years. Being in the nursing home and where he is, I just want him to be recognized again,” said Charles Lang, the treasurer of the Cortland County Firemen’s Association and treasurer of the Cortland County Burn Fund.
The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York issued a proclamation and the State of New York Office of Fire Prevention and Control in October awarded him a certificate of appreciation.
“I feel proud to present these to him. I know he feels honored,” Charles Lang said, speaking for Paul Lang, who has limited verbal capabilities.
Paul Lang joined the Cortland Fire Department in 1939, initially as a paid firefighter, before leaving for the now-defunct Potter Paint Co., then service in the Army during World War II.
After returning, he rejoined the Cortland Fire Department as a volunteer, including tenure as a deputy chief for volunteer firefighters from 1958 to 1966.
He wasn’t the kind of firefighter to watch for his safety first, his son said. Paul Lang was inside a burning building when his chief ordered the firefighters to evacuate. Paul Lang was the last one out, making sure all of the other firefighters left before him, Charles Lang said.
“Dad was the type of person you had to love,” said Nancy Lang, Charles Lang’s wife. “He was wonderful. He would do anything for anybody.”
As Paul Lang aged, his roles changed in firefighting. Eventually, he stepped down as chief, and like many volunteers, turned to less physical ways of helping — office support, mentoring younger firefighters, fire police.
“Quite a few members get into the fire police because of that fact,” he said.
Eighty years after Paul Lang first signed up — more than a half-century after he stepped down as chief — he still serves a role in firefighting, at least to his children: inspiration.
Charles Lang has been a volunteer firefighter for 51 years. He is one of six men in the family who served as firefighters over four generations. His brother, Robert, is a volunteer firefighter in Walton, the only one of those six not to serve in Cortland.
After Charles Lang presented the recognitions to his father, Charles asked his father how he felt: