Former fire chief was a leader, mentor to younger members
On the wall inside of the Old Lycoming Township Volunteer Fire Co. headquarters, Paul Kenneth Stroble Jr.’s portrait is joined by other fire chiefs who are fittingly honored by their fellow volunteer firefighters.
It is a framed portrait of Stroble wearing his chief’s hat, and the frame is draped in black bunting, signifying his death.
It gives tribute to a former leader of the volunteer fire company on Dewey Avenue who may be gone but will hardly to be forgotten.
“He was a chief who transitioned the volunteer fire company from a post-World War II volunteer fire service to a more modern volunteer fire company,” said Joseph Hopple, the company’s Director of Emergency Services.
“Chief Stroble provided a work ethic and discipline that propelled future leaders of the company and emergency services beyond that members went on to touch,” Hopple said.
A transformational figurehead in the company, Stroble was its chief from 1978 to 1984, and then its chief engineer for decades afterwards, continuing to provide leadership, mentoring and commitment to events such as the popular fish fry fundraiser, where — even with Alzheimer’s — he had his wife, Beverly, drive him to the social hall because he wanted to be a part of serving the tasty haddock coated in batter and served with sides to the community eager to gobble it up.
That kind of dedication — after years of entering burning buildings and responding to vehicle accidents — can’t be overlooked in today’s volunteer fire services, which still have a few seasoned veterans, but who for the most part are longing for and need more interested young firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
Through Stroble’s guidance and mentorship, many of the younger volunteers in the company went on to work in this chosen admirable profession in locations across the nation, including Washington, D.C., and in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, which has as its county seat Annapolis, and its miles and miles of waterfront coast line with tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay and the bay itself.
Current Fire Chief Matt Oldt said the company is feeling the loss and will for some time.
“He was like a big Dad,” Oldt said, acknowledging his and other company members’ feelings are like that of a deflated balloon.
Stroble was “no-nonsense as a chief,” Oldt said, recalling an incident (which is terminology for response to fires, accidents and medical calls the company members go on) when Stroble was in an engine headed to a structure fire of a steakhouse on Lycoming Creek Road. A fire police officer blocked the engine getting in front of it, Oldt said.
In no uncertain terms, Stroble told the fire police officer to get out of the way or he would be put into the snowbank by the truck, Oldt recalled.
“He calmed down after the fire was out,” Oldt said, laughing about Stroble’s demeanor when he wanted to get the engine to the fire scenes.
Stroble also was light-hearted and kind, and could be jovial.
Eleven or so years ago, Oldt said he accompanied Stroble and others on a trip to Wisconsin to retrieve a new engine-rescue, one that remains actively in service.
“I remember the road trip,” Oldt said, acknowledging how humorous Stroble was while on it.
“He’d crack jokes,” he said.
Just as Hopple referenced, Oldt also considered Stroble to be a mentor and nurturing to younger firefighters.
“If you needed help, he would offer it,” Oldt said, adding Stroble had an instructive manner but was not overbearing.
“He would have you figure out the answer,” Oldt said. “There are not a lot of veteran firefighters like him.”
“Our fire company is better today and our community is safer today because of Paul Stroble,” said Tim Shumbat, fire company president.
“He led by example. I had a lot of respect for him,” Shumbat said.
Shumbat, who joined the fire company as a junior firefighter, was under Stroble’s tutelage.
“He was a disciplinarian but he led by example,” Shumbat said.
“As I said at his eulogy, his commitment was his legacy. His purpose in life. To him commitment was putting it to action.
Shumbat agreed with Hopple’s assessment on Stroble’s transitional impact.
“Paul impacted people just by his commitment, he worked with us and he made us make good decisions,” Shumbat said.
Stroble was not considered a road blocker or impediment to change, but made “you justify that change,” Shumbat said.
Following in Stroble’s footsteps as chief was Dave Shirn and during this period members met once a month in a meeting to ensure a smooth transition.
“We had a litmus test and it was what would Paul think and what would Paul say,” Shumbat said. “He forced us to justify and make sure it was right for the fire company,” he said.
Two years ago, Stroble received the Medal of Honor, the highest achievement for a member in the fire company member.
A 1957 graduate of the Williamsport Area High School, Stroble went on to serve his nation in the U.S. Navy.
Stroble joined the fire company in 1965.
Besides serving as chief from 1978 to 1984, he went on to be the company’s chief engineer for decades afterward, continuing to mentor firefighters.
Employed at Litton Industries for 14 years before retiring from Textron Lycoming (aircraft engine manufacturer) in 2000, Stroble belonged to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 7863 DuBoistown, the Republican Club and was a life member of the Laurel Lodge Hunting Camp.
Besides hunting, Stroble watched NASCAR, rooting for his favorite driver, Tony Stewart, whose nickname is appropriately “Smoke.”
Today, a majority of the officers he had as junior firefighters have gone on to become career firefighters, police officers, paramedics and 911 dispatchers.
“He was a humble guy,” Shumbat said. “He did not know the impact he had.”
Family and friends gathered for Stroble’s funeral Tuesday at St. John’s-Newberry United Methodist Church, where he attended.
“Stroble served his country, his community and his God,” stated Mark Lusk, Lycoming County sheriff, a member of the fire company. “[He was] a man who did it all,” Lusk said.