BUSTI - Gene Archer admits he feels at home behind the wheel of a truck.
The larger the better, too.
"I always said if you need someone to do carpenter work don't call me, but if you need someone to run heavy equipment I'm you man," said Archer, 76.
Gene Archer has been a mentor for many in the Busti Fire Department. Archer has been a volunteer for 45 years, during which time he served as fire chief and president of the fire department.
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As a member of the Busti Fire Department for 45 years, the Brisbin, Pa., native has long been a fixture behind the wheel of emergency vehicles. With the Busti Town Highway Department, Archer drove plows and front-end loaders for a living, satisfying his fascination for big trucks.
He retired as a town employee in 2000, but continues to drive for Tri-James Services Inc. in Lakewood.
Archer moved from Pennsylvania to Busti in 1967, and joined the fire department a year later.
It was curiosity, and a deafening siren, that perked his interest into the fire service.
"I was home one night and the fire whistle was blowing, and blowing and blowing," Archer said. "I said to my wife, 'I ought to go see if I can help.'
"So I come in the door and the first thing someone says to me, 'Would you like to join?' Ever since then I've been hooked on it."
Within a year of joining the fire department, Archer became second assistant fire chief; two years later he was first assistant and two years after that he was chief.
Archer went on to be chief four times during the 1980s and '90s, the last ending in 1998. He also has served as president and vice president of the fire department, and currently is fire captain.
Being an active member of the fire department means having an understanding wife, said Archer, referring to his wife, Darla.
"She is a fantastic woman to let me miss all those dinners and activities with the children," he said.
On the county level, Archer has been on the Fire Advisory Board for 10 years and served on the county Fire Chiefs Association. He was president of the association in 1997.
"Gene is a good example of a dedicated firefighter not only in Busti but on the county level," said Julius Leone, Chautauqua County fire coordinator. "That kind of dedication can go a long way for a community."
As a first responder in Busti spanning five decades, Archer has become known as a father and grandfather to fellow firefighters. It's a distinction Archer takes with pride.
"I love it because to me it shows respect," he said. "Plus they understand my age and what I'm doing."
Of the countless firefighters Archer has mentored is Busti's current fire Chief Mike Volpe.
"This man has been my left and right hand through my fire service career," Volpe said. "He's my mentor in this department. He's the one who showed me the ropes and brought me through the ranks."
Archer recalls numerous structure fires and car crashes in his tenure, some memorable and some forgettable. One such call required him to search for a woman who died in a fire.
"That's one I'd rather just forget," he said.
With 45 years experience in the fire department, Archer said he doesn't plan to hang up his turnout gear anytime soon. "I joined to help the community," he said. "I'm still here."
This story is part of a continuing series on first responders. To nominate someone, contact Eric Tichy at 487-1111 at ext. 251, or email firstname.lastname@example.org