MAPLE SPRINGS - There was a time, Doug Conroe recalls for better or worse, when firefighters used to ride on the back of a speeding engine.
The longtime Maple Springs fire chief said one emergency, in particular, involved him clinging to a fire truck en route to an airplane up in flames. The only problem: the plane was stored inside a garage, attached to the house.
"I crossed over the hill and all I could see were the flames," Conroe said. "They never told us the plane was stored in the attached garage.
Doug Conroe poses for a photo in the Maple Springs firehall. He has been fire chief of the fire department since the mid-1990s. During his tenure, he has emphasized EMS at the local and county level.
P-J photo by Eric Tichy
"I remember telling myself, 'We have a little different situation here than we thought.'"
Conroe has close to 40 years experience in the fire service, the bulk of them in Chautauqua County. However, he began his career in Ohio, where he jump-started the first aid program with the Hiram Fire Department.
In the mid-1990s, Conroe became Maple Springs fire chief, and has held the position ever since. Before that he served as rescue lieutenant and rescue captain.
"It's part of your life. It's bred into you," he said of his long-time service. "How do you keep coming back? Well, there are enjoyable aspects. And there some tedious aspects. The paperwork isn't getting any easier, either."
As the father of three grown children, Conroe said when the alarm rang, he knew he had a responsibility to respond.
"Being chief is a way of serving and having some management skills," he said. "I'm glad to use them along the way."
Conroe said 80 percent of calls for the fire department, which has more than a dozen active members, are for emergency medical services. In fact, of the more than 100 emergency responses Maple Springs firefighters had in 2012, 82 required the ambulance for one reason or another.
"It's a major part of our operation," Conroe said, noting EMS calls tend to increase in the summer when more tourists frequent Chautauqua Lake.
"Being on the lake, our numbers can swell," he said. "And then in the winter it's lower."
EMS has become one of Conroe's lasting legacies throughout Chautauqua County.
"Doug has always strived to improve EMS and fire services through his involvement on all levels," said Julius Leone, county fire coordinator and director of EMS. "Doug is a great example of serving his community, while always striving to provide a safer community."
Conroe has been a member of the county EMS Council since the mid-1980s, and at one point was chairman. Under his leadership, the county Stress Debriefing Team was established. He also has continuously served on the Southwestern Regional EMS Council, also acting as secretary at one time.
"You're helping people always in need at various levels," Conroe said. "You're able to make a difference; you can comfort a person and help when they're hurting."
To nominate a first responder in Chautauqua County, contact Eric Tichy at 487-1111 at ext. 251, or email firstname.lastname@example.org