by Jonathan Weaver
A decade-long Leechburg Fire Company tradition will begin again tonight as volunteers coordinate the “Freedom Festival.”
Leechburg Fire Company President Brian Scott said the festival was held for about 14 years before taking a one-year hiatus upon the passing of former chairman and fire department member Dennis “Milo” Miller.
“The motivation behind this is obviously the September 11, 2001 situation. A lot of our guys felt that we should not let that date be forgotten, so I think it was in 2002 we started the Freedom Festival to try and keep the memory alive of those to honor those that passed away and sacrificed whether it be in the military or in emergency services,” Scott said.
Fire Captain Dave Safranyos said it will also be a nice tribute to honor Miller, who died in June 2013.
“Milo did do a lot of work for it, so for us, it’s a nice tribute to him to bring it back – in fact, we have a plaque we made up by the memorial,” Safranyos said.
Also a U.S. Army veteran who served during the Vietnam War, Miller was a 49-year member of the fire department and a department trustee and engineer.
Assistant Dive Team Captain Chris Broda – who started running with the department in 2001 – recalls getting woken up by his wife, Marcy, to watch the Twin Towers in New York City collapse after working night shift. Shortly after, he began coordinating the first Freedom Festival with Miller.
“(Miller) was a big asset to this fire company,” Broda said. “He was a good guy.”
The weekend event also serves as a department fundraiser after firefighters purchased a 2013 Rosenbauer tower truck in February.
“This is all to raise money for our new aerial we had to buy this year. Our 1978 went out-of-service last year since it was un-repairable,” Safranyos said. “That is a big reason why we had to bring this back and the community really supported us buying this aerial, so in-turn we’d like to give back to the community by having a festival to show them how we appreciate all the people in the community have done for us to make this happen.
And we have fun with it.”
A mix of 20-30 private business and community non-profit vendors will have booths near the Canal Street fire station – such as Vandergrift Fire Company #2 serving funnel cakes.
“Apparently their funnel cakes are a big hit over in Vandergrift, so we decided to have them over to help us,” Scott said.
Festival chairpersons thanked Ford City Legacy Chair Ben Dinus for helping restart the festival. Dinus said firefighters also supported the Fourth of July weekend inaugural SummerFest in Ford City, and that that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
“The only way any of this stuff will succeed is if you work together,” Dinus said. “With them helping us out with the wrestling, with the fireworks, bringing the new unit in for the parade and Chris donating his personal tent to us for the information booth, you can’t take advantage of that – you have to pay it back. In a world where not a lot of good things happen anymore, it’s something good.”
Ford City Legacy will have a booth at the event this weekend selling halushki made by Dinus’ mother-in-law Barb Valasek.
Firefighters will ring the memorial bell in tribute of September 11 at 6PM as part of the opening ceremony before the Pledge of Allegiance and country band “Barnhill” begins at 8PM.
Aurora Fireworks of Gilpin Township will launch fireworks at the fire department starting at 10PM, weather depending.
The musical entertainment resumes at 6PM Saturday night when the Hyde Park Dance Crew perform prior to the Stevie J Band and Apollo-based rock band Doppler Affect perform.
Sunday afternoon includes an open house showcasing emergency apparatus at noon with a DJ, classical music with the Johnny Murphy Orchestra and the Leechburg Area High School band and cheerleaders.
Gloria Foster – Chief Tom Foster’s daughter – has not sang publicly since graduating from Leechburg Area High School in 1998 (or depending if residents have seen her during karaoke nights), but will sing the national anthem tonight.