This week firefighters across the county said goodbye to Carl Fransen, the late Chief of the Gerry Volunteer Fire Department. Fransen lost his courageous and hard fought battle with cancer at the age of 35.
Although Fransen was taken much too soon, he selflessly spent the time he was given doing what he loved: saving lives and extinguishing fires.
"He grew up here in Gerry, and attended Cassadaga Central School," said Paul Cooley, Gerry Volunteer Fire Department media coordinator. "He wanted to join the fire department very early, because he was interested in it, and his dad was in the fire equipment business. He wanted to join when he was 16, however the state regulations at the time didn't permit that. He submitted his application in 1994 when he was 16, and it was acted upon in 1995 when he was 17."
According to Cooley, by 1999, he was Third Assistant Chief. By 2001, he was elected as First Assistant Chief. Then, in 2004, he became the Fire Chief at age 25.
"He was probably one of the youngest, if not the youngest, fire chief in the county at that time," Cooley said. "It's very rare that anyone at that age becomes fire chief."
During the time that Fransen took over as fire chief, bylaws mandated that the Gerry Volunteer Fire Department limit the term of fire chief to five years.
"At the time that Fransen's term was up, there was a resolution put in to change the bylaws and remove the term limit so he could be re-elected," Cooley said. "That was in 2009. To no one's surprise, he was elected for another term. He showed as much dedication to the fire department as any one person could. The Gerry Volunteer Fire Department gets about 350 calls a year, and he would make it to just about every single one of them."
When Fransen wasn't responding to fires, he was helping his father operate his fire equipment company that was operated out of Gerry.
"They traveled all over Western New York and parts of Pennsylvania," Cooley said. "They were involved with dozens of fire companies as a result, and he was very well-known. As a result, he knew fire equipment inside and out, and I think our fire equipment was kept up-to-date as well as anywhere. In order to sell equipment, he had to know all the regulations that the state was bringing in, so we knew about them probably faster than anyone else. His knowledge was second to none."
According to Cooley, when the department needed another truck and couldn't afford to buy a new one, Fransen helped locate a well-maintained, reliable used truck, because of all the connections he had established through the business he shared with his father.
"It was such a benefit to the department to have his knowledge," Cooley said. "But he also was an EMT, and he went on a lot of the EMS calls. Quite literally, if something needed to be done, he knew how to do it."
Fransen is remembered as a caring, personable and selfless man. Even when it had nothing to do with the Gerry Volunteer Fire Department, if a neighbor, friend or complete stranger had a problem, and he knew a way to help, he'd never let the opportunity pass him by.
"He came over to our house once when we were having a problem with a water pump," Cooley said. "He came over, did a lot of work in the basement, and got it working again."
Cooley called Fransen's passing a devastating loss to the community. Fransen was the father of two, and had recently married his wife, Heather Roberts Fransen, on Jan. 26.
"Once they found out that he was in the shape he was in ... and there wasn't a whole lot of hope for him, they decided they wanted to get married," said Fransen. "She stuck right with him, especially when it mattered."
According to Cooley, Fransen was at peace with what was happening to him. He didn't fear death, and he maintained that courage until his cancer took him.
Fransen was buried in Lakeview Cemetery on Wednesday. Anyone wishing to contribute in memory of Fransen may do so to the Gerry Volunteer Fire Department; or Hospice Chautauqua County.