B y Derek Liebig
Terry LaChapelle has been a member of the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company for 33 years. He’s been such a constant presence over the last three decades that he’s been named a lifetime member, a distinction few earn. Throughout most of that time, his son Darrell has been there by his side.
Terry used to bring Darrell down to the firehouse all the time when he was a child, whether it was for meetings, training or actual calls.
“I’ve been around here since I could walk,” Darrell says fondly. “I used to come down and sit in the truck.”
Today, Darrell is an Assistant Chief with more than 13 years of experience under his belt, including six years as an officer.
His story is just one example of a passion for fire fighting and a sense of duty that has been passed down from father to son.
Besides Terry and Darrell, the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company can count three other father-son combinations among its members.
There’s Gordy Bixby who has two sons on the roster: Matt and Adam, the latter of whom is a junior firefighter.
There’s Luke Wescott who got involved in firefighting, and in the process of rekindled his father’s involvement in the department.
And then there are Brian and Bryan Brooks at the helm of the ship, serving as president and chief, respectively.
The father’s may have joined for different reasons-excitement, duty, a need for camaraderie-but there’s little doubt they all influenced their son’s.
Bryan said he’s wanted to be a firefighter ever since he was a little boy hanging out with the guys at the firehouse.
“I used to ride with my dad. I can remember I was five the first time I rode in a truck,” he said.
As soon as he was old enough, Bryan became a member of the Explorer Post and later a full-fledged member of the department in 1999.
“It’s my hobby. It’s everything I do when I’m not at work,” Bryan said.
“There’s a firefighting bug that just seems to catch,” said the elder Brooks.
Or as Bruce Wescott said, “it just gets in your blood.”
Bruce used to tote along his son Luke to fire department activities all the time before a hectic schedule caused him to give up on firefighting.
Years later Luke got involved, but his father remained on the sidelines.
“I wanted him to establish himself on his own,” Bruce said.
Now Luke, who will study fire science at college in the fall, tries to give his dad a hard time for being a “probie” (probational firefighter) now that he’s joined back up.
Like their peers, Matt and Adam Bixby used to play at the firehouse before they became members.
Their father admits to worrying about them, but said everyone looks out for each other, kind of like a family.
“We try to make it as family orientated as we can,” Bryan added.
Most of the sons said they probably wouldn’t be firefighters if it wasn’t for their dads, owing them a debt of gratitude.
But its’ that father’s who seem the most thankful.
“Us dads, we can all say we are very proud of our sons and all the time they have spent down here,” Bruce said.