Mahlon Irish popped his head from around the American LaFrance fire truck parked in his garage and walked toward the front of the building holding another part for the 1950 Brockway fire engine he was working on.
“I’m going to try and do some work on this one in the winter, get it running,” he said.
Irish, the Homer fire chief, is looking forward to having more time to work on the firetrucks he owns — 17 of them.
He’s been putting pieces into place to finally step back from the ranks he holds in the community.
He announced Oct. 27 that he was resigning as the chairman of the Homer Village Planning Board. And after being in the fire department since April 1974, he’s looking forward to fire department elections in April, so another chief can be picked and he can retire from that duty.
Once a new chief is picked, Irish hopes to remain at the department to drive vehicles. But not being chief gives him more free time to do some of the things he likes — working on his trucks and going camping with his 3-year-old puppy, Ariel.
“I’ve really gotten to like going camping, take the dog with me and relax,” Irish said, but being chief makes that difficult. “You kind of want to be around, make sure you make the meetings, the calls.”
Irish said the other reason he’s taking a step back to do more of the other hobbies he loves in life is because he’s been in remission for more than 40 months from prostate cancer. He said he’s taking a number of prescriptions to help keep the cancer from coming back, “but I don’t know how long it will last.”
His experience inspired him to push for greater cancer precautions for firefighters. In 2018, Homer firefighters raised money to buy 40 new hoods, at $75 each, that reduce the risk of inhaling carcinogenic compounds. And in 2017, Irish backed a state measure to provide volunteer firefighters health insurance benefits if they contract certain cancers. The year before that, Homer and other departments acquired new washing equipment to clean firefighting gear of carcinogens.
Kevin Whitney, a firefighter in Cortlandville and chairman of the fire commissioners, said he first met Irish when he was training at the fire academy and Irish was an instructor. They also worked together with the Ithaca Fire Department.
“I always just looked up to him,” Whitney said, noting Irish was one of those people who everyone knew based on his reputation and actions.
Over the years, Whitney said he and Irish have grown close.
“I think it’s difficult for him to step away a little bit because it’s been his life,” Whitney said. “It just shows how much he cares about the Homer Fire Department and the Homer community.”
In fact, Irish retired as chief once before, in 2014. The department dedicated its ladder truck to him several weeks later. Retirement didn’t stick; Irish was re-elected chief in 2017.
Irish’s love for the department extends to his hobbies. Irish has been working on four of the department’s original trucks, which were built in 1927, 1939, 1950 and 1973. Of the four trucks, all but the 1973 are Brockway trucks.
He said he’s trying to recreate some of the same memories with the trucks at the department, such as a photo of two boys — John and Mike Ryan — sitting on the 1950 truck in front of the station, but he needs to get that truck running first.
“There’s a lot of stuff that takes time,” he said.