November 27, 2021

Phoenix boy, 15, visits about 160 fire stations

‘It never gets old’

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Homer Fire Chief Mahlon Irish Jr. gives Joey Abt an old fire helmet as a gift Saturday inside the Homer Fire Department. Abt is visiting fire stations because of his interest in firefighters.

Visiting 160 places might seem tiring, but not for 15-year-old Joey Abt and not if those places are fire stations.

“It never gets old for him,” said Diane Abt, his mother. “He never gets tired of it. He never gets sick of hearing about the same piece of equipment over and over again.”

The Abt family, from Phoenix, north of Syracuse, added another fire department to the list Saturday when they visited Homer’s fire department. They met Fire Chief Mahlon Irish Jr. and other firefighters before taking a ride in a fire engine that was in the parade for this year’s Winterfest.

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Joey Abt rides in a fire engine Saturday in a parade during Homer Winterfest.

The fire departments Joey Abt has visited are mostly in the state but he has traveled to departments in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

From these visits, he has collected various souvenirs including patches, T-shirts and fire helmets, which are displayed in the family’s basement. He has even received gifts from as far away as New Zealand and Antarctica.

His quest to visit fire stations began five years ago when he developed severe pneumonia and had to be taken to the hospital, Diane Abt said. While recovering, he and his aunt were listening to a scanner, leading Joey Abt to want to visit fire stations in Syracuse. After visiting those stations, he made a list of 77 fire stations in and around Onondaga County he wanted to visit. He has visited about 160 stations.

“After that, he just didn’t want to stop,” Diane Abt said. “It just kept going and going and going.”

Each visit to a new fire department kept his interest up to see a new one, she said.

Joey Abt’s Down syndrome hasn’t been an issue during these meetings, Diane Abt said. In fact, it empowers him.

“He has no fear meeting new people,” she said.

This has allowed Joey to make new friends with each visit, said Steve Abt, his father.

“He’s developed lifelong friendships” with each firefighter and fire official he’s met, Steve Abt said.

This included his new friend, Irish.

“I just hope he has a good time,” Irish said.

Irish said he enjoyed seeing the smile on Joey Abt’s face and answering questions about the fire department, including what members serve what position and what other departments the Homer Fire Department works with.