CATTARAUGUS - Representatives of 36 fire companies from four adjacent counties filled the village of Cattaraugus to overflowing last weekend. The firemen, their wives and auxiliary members (from Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Allegany counties) had arrived for the 104th Convention of the Southwestern Association of Volunteer Firemen.
Participants started pulling in Wednesday, for registration and a kickoff dinner at the Cattaraugus Fire Department's clubhouse. The registration process continued into the following day, after an all-you-can-eat breakfast, prepared and served by the Cattaraugus Fire Department's Ladies Auxiliary. As companies signed up, they were escorted to their respective "dugouts," located throughout the village. These dugouts were hardly as primitive as their name implied, since they actually were garages, driveways or yards of residents who had agreed beforehand to make their properties available for that purpose.
Thursday morning started with convention members gathering for a business meeting, held in the Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School auditorium thanks to the cooperation of school authorities. By Thursday afternoon, most departments had their living quarters set up. These ranged from tents to campers, trailers and motorhomes. Some groups spent additional time and effort decorating their premises in keeping with this year's tropical theme.
The happy campers from Richburg Volunteer Fire Department, relax under palm trees lining their sandy tropical beach. Numerous other palms lined the driveway leading in from Memorial Drive.
Friday was an especially jam-packed day, with most of the morning dedicated to completing convention business. This began with a 9 a.m. memorial service, which was followed by the election of association officers. Topping off the proceedings, the convention awards ceremony distributed honors to several of its outstanding members. All of these activities were held in the relative coolness and comfort of the high school auditorium, thanks again to the cooperative spirit of school authorities.
By Friday afternoon, the action became a little more hectic. The ever-popular water battle was held on the grounds of the Cattaraugus Fireman's Club. Judging of dugout decorations was done throughout the afternoon, followed by an imaginative Comic Parade at 7 p.m.
On Saturday, the SWAVF's Women's Auxiliary held both a board meeting and a later general meeting and luncheon. These took place at the Little Valley American Legion Post 531, on Route 353.
Despite sizzling afternoon temperatures, a Grand Parade, featuring trucks and marchers took off at 3 p.m. Two participants partially succumbed to the heat and received minor medical assistance. Local residents showed their appreciation for the marchers' efforts by lining South Street to cheer on the participants.
The day - and the convention - ended with a bang later that night as a spectacular fireworks display brought "oohs" and "aahs" from the onlookers. Afterwards, live music at the Fireman's Club gave everyone a chance to wind down with dancing and socializing.
By noon Sunday, the various dugouts had virtually disappeared, their weary occupants packed up and headed home. All agreed that Mother Nature had smiled on the convention, bestowing bright, sunny weather throughout the weekend. And even though this resulted in some uncomfortably toasty temperatures, the Cattaraugus hosts were aware of the situation, and made the rounds with handouts of bottled water to any requiring them. As a further convenience to sticky convention-goers, the school opened its shower facilities from 8 to 11 a.m. each day to all comers.
"I want to thank everyone who helped pull this off," said Jesse Bradley, convention coordinator. "Without people like Joe and Beth Frentz, Andy Barr, Scott and Eileen Williams and their family, Tom Mormile, John Rhinehart and his family, and Kyle and Heather Harris and their family, we'd have never made it."
Bradley emphasized that the firemen owed a special debt of gratitude to the Cattaraugus Police Department, headed up by officer Mike McCarthy.
"Our officers visited the dugouts to get acquainted; they offered their assistance and their presence, without being threatening; they were a big part of the event," he said.
He said the Cattaraugus County sheriffs also tried to drop in from time to time, although they were busy that week with the county fair.
Bradley added that he was very pleased with the response of the whole community to the convention and its participants. "So many firemen told me they felt welcome here," he said. "Everyone really seemed to be getting along."