by Sue Ann Rybak
For 65 years, Joseph E. Donofry, 84, has put the needs of others ahead of his own as a volunteer firefighter at Wyndmoor Hose Company No. 1, 1043 E. Willow Grove Ave. Recently, he was honored by state and city officials for his dedication and commitment to the community. But, Donofry is not the kind of person to brag about his service.
Donofry, a native of Wyndmoor who was too modest to answer any questions for this article, joined when he was 19 years old. His son, James, 57, said his dad never hesitated to answer the call to save a life, despite working full-time as a printer at a press company. James said as a kid he worried about his dad getting hurt every time he left the house to fight a fire.
“Growing up in a household with a first responder, there is no sense of time,” James said. “No matter what time of day [it was] or whether it was a holiday, no matter what the weather conditions are, when the alarm sounds, they are off and running. I remember my dad running out the door once right before a Thanksgiving meal.”
The proud son said it was not unusual for his mother to keep dinner warm for his dad, and more often than not, his dad would be too exhausted to eat when he returned home from a fire. James said members of the Wyndmoor Hose Company have always been like family. He added, that even now, someone from the firehouse always comes to pick up his dad and take him to meetings.
“It is very helpful because my dad could NEVER miss a meeting,” said James, whose father always said, “You’re never too busy to help someone else.”
Firefighter John Fleming, 34, who joined the 100 percent volunteer department in 2000, said “I simply can’t remember any time without Joe around.” He said Joe Donofry has held multiple positions over the years, including chief engineer, assistant chief, chief and treasurer, a role he has served for 45 years. “A great characteristic about Joe is that he just understood the significance of his role, and he was not willing to let the department down,” Fleming said. “Joe is dedicated, loyal and reliable.”
He added that while Donofry is “not jumping on the truck anymore,” he continues to serve the fire department as treasurer. Ed Welch, 53, who has volunteered as a firefighter for more than 36 years, describes Donofry, as “a firefighter’s firefighter.”
Welch, who joined the company in 1978, said, “As a new firefighter, I can vividly recall Chief Donofry’s friendly encouragement and the feeling that he was looking out for me, making sure that at 17, I wasn’t overwhelmed. “This care, this personal eye-to-eye interest with a smile, is not a fire chief thing. It is simply who Joe Donofry is.”
Welch added that while all firefighters are taught to be responsible and reliable servants of the community, “Donofry’s lifelong example has been our greatest teacher.”
He added that Donofry has always remained “above the fray of firehouse politics. He has always been affable and uncontroversial. As chief for three years and an assistant chief for more than a decade, he was often in the middle of the fire ground. His opinion and expertise are always sought after and relied upon.
“Joe is not retiring from the Wyndmoor Hose Company. We will not allow that. He has made clear that now in his 80s he will not be responding, riding the engines and dragging hose line anymore. We have no doubt, though, that at significant fires, we will see Chief Donofry there. Once a firefighter, always a firefighter.”