Firefighter answering Camden-Wyoming’s call for decades

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Camden-Wyoming firefighter Leroy Dear Jr. began voluntary service with the department in January 1959. Despite being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer more than five years ago and surviving a major heart attack in the 1970s, Mr. Dear is still doing what he loves. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

CAMDEN — He’s been the wheelman in thousands of fire responses in the Camden-Wyoming area.

Leroy Dear Jr. began voluntary service with the Camden-Wyoming Fire Company in January 1959 and can’t remember an accident while hurriedly driving a company truck to the scene.

That’s a record anyone would be proud of even in normal conditions, without the stress of making every second of time count on the way to a community emergency. There’s no time to waste when heading to an alarm call for help, and Mr. Dear said he has never been delayed by a mishap.

The soon-to-be 76-year-old is still fit enough to handle any vehicle in the station house, but realizes everyone eventually reaches their limits.

“Once I start having doubts about my reaction time I will quit,” Mr. Dear said earlier this week at the fire department.

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Mr. Dear has been behind of the wheel for the department for decades.

“I’m not there yet but I realize it won’t be long at age 76 either.”

Perhaps the fire company has extended Mr. Dear’s life, according to him. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 5 1/2 years ago and appears no worse for wear from an outsider’s perspective.

“I’m doing something, I’m keeping busy,” he said, noting that he also survived a major heart attack in the early 1970s. “The fire department gave me something to do when I had severe medical problems.”

And of course, 56 years of involvement with any organization will bring some emotional lows and flareups at times.

“I’ve gotten mad at times and walked away, but always came back,” he said with a slight smile.

After suffering slight smoke inhalation requiring a hospital check early in his career, Mr. Dear said he “learned to be more careful.”

That didn’t stop him from being part of a team that saved a man stuck in a fuel tank in worsening conditions, Mr. Dear said when reminiscing about his most memorable calls.

With lights flashing and a siren blaring, Mr. Dear still deftly maneuvers a truck through a maze of unsuspecting drivers who resemble a challenging obstacle course.

“People don’t seem to pay any attention to you and instead of doing something early they wait until the last second and then don’t know what to do,” he said.

But Mr. Dear continues to truck along safely, literally. He’s been part of 30-some alarm responses in the past two months, a load he described as lighter than usual. Just a couple years ago he won a company alarm attendance award for the frequency of his participation.

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Firefighter Leroy Dear Jr. monitors a response to a blaze on Camden-Wyoming Avenue circa 1989. (Submitted photo)

In the Camden’s mayor and council meeting on Dec. 7, Mayor Justin King presented the firefighting veteran with a proclamation conveying “a heartfelt thanks to Mr. Dear for his years of dedication and sacrifice to the residents of Camden and its surrounding community.”

The town saluted Mr. Dear for his time as fire department president, trustee, board of directors member, chief engineer, assistant treasurer, treasures, assistant fire chief and deputy fire chief.

“Whereas it is well known that through all these years, Mr. Dear has dedicated his life in a volunteer capacity to make sure that our community remains as safe as possible,” part of the proclamation read.

While not quite sure why he was called to the December council meeting, Mr. Dear said “I had a feeling something was up. Why else would a past president be called to a town meeting?”

Mr. Dear said he appreciated and savored the town’s recognition, and had not yet framed the proclamation that will eventually hang on his wall at home, which he said a Dover address but situated halfway between Rising Sun and Camden.

After serving as Camden-Wyoming Fire Company’s elected president from 2011 to 2015, Mr. Dear chose not to pursue another term in November’s vote. He still takes part in any fundraising activities at the fire department, including the traditional bingo nights.

“We had a good vice president and I was ready to take a break,” said Mr. Dear, who has also served with the Dover and Odessa fire departments

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Leroy Dear Jr., right, receives a proclamation from Town of Camden President Justin King, center, on Dec. 7, joined by Camden-Wyoming Fire Company President Michael Brittingham.
(Submitted photo)

at times during the past half century.

As with so many firefighters here in Delaware, Mr. Dear became a firefighter because of his father’s service, and his younger brother Ron followed the same path to volunteer as a community servant for safety. Past Chief James Queen talked him into officially joining, but there wasn’t much convincing to do.

Mr. Dear, a 1958 Dover High graduate, can still remember the excitement of watching his father “running fast to the firehouse. He got away with speeding a little bit.”

That was when U.S. 13 was a two-lane road and no more than 5,000 people lived in the area, he said.

While acknowledging that nobody ever wants to see a fire of any magnitude occur, they do happen and “the sirens, noise, speed and lights are exiting to be in the middle of,” Mr. Dear said. “Anyone who says otherwise is fibbing.”

For 27 years, Mr. Dear worked at what’s now the Kent County 911 call center, beginning as an emergency dispatcher for firefighters and gradually expanding his duties.

He also worked in the computer center at Farmers Bank in the Wilmington area for seven years.

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