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Answering the call

John Conyn welcomed to Webster City as Fire Chief

August 18, 2014
Jim Krajewski (jkrajewski@freemanjournal.net) , OurHomeTownWebsterCity.com

The glistening red fire trucks of the Webster City Fire Department are a regular sight at the annual Hamilton County Fair Parade. This year, a new member of the department rode along with the trucks on a bike and passed out stickers to children in attendance.

John Conyn, who began working as the city's fire chief in July, said such events are a great way to meet people in town.

"As a firefighter, you work for your community. I work for this city, I am your employee. I'm your neighbor, and I'll always have time to say hi," Conyn said.

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Conyn knows its important to reach out to the community as a firefighter, especially to children. That's because he first became interested in the career due to such kindness.

Conyn grew up on the north side of Chicago. His bedroom window faced a nearby fire station. Conyn recalls hearing the fire engines start up with a roar and watching firefighters, giants to him, head out to save the day. One day, he was passing by the station when he was greeted by one of those giants.

"They were washing the rig out front, and a firefighter just bothered to say hi," Conyn said. "I was just amazed he was talking to me."

The firefighters showed Conyn the rig, what different things on it did, and what situations they would use those tools for. That shared moment was the spark for Conyn's interest in becoming a firefighter.

"I think it's my duty to pay that forward," Conyn said.

His interest in firefighting continued to grow. Conyn would help his father, a truck driver, to load up his truck on Saturdays. When they had to travel a short distance in the city, Conyn would hop on the back of the truck and hold tight to the rain gutter. His father would drive slowly, letting Conyn pretend he was a firefighter on route to an emergency.

Conyn also recalls when one of his family's friends, who was a firefighter, gave him a pair of fireman boots. They were used and tattered, but Conyn wore them whenever he could.

"If there was a clogged water drain by the city curb, boy, I put those boots on and I knew I could save the day," Conyn said.

When he was in high school, Conyn found a chance to see the inner workings of a fire station. While working as a gas station attendant, he helped a man fix his tire. He recognized that person as the local fire chief. Conyn asked him if he could go along on a ride someday, and the fire chief agreed. Conyn spent a 12-hour day at the station. During that time, he went to an industrial accident and a couple car accidents.

Conyn said he was ready to work as a firefighter, but at the age of 17, he would have difficulty finding a job. However, he found such work through the Air Force. At 18 years old, Conyn enlisted as a crash rescue firefighter.

Conyn said he learned a lot in the Air Force. However, he later left the service to help his father who was diagnosed with cancer. Back home, he went back to the same gas station he worked at in high school. Once again, he met another firefighter. This time, he was told about a job opening with the Great Lakes Fire Department in North Chicago. Conyn worked and continued to learn there for seven years.

Living on the north side of Chicago, Conyn said several of his co-workers lived in Wisconsin near the state border. One day, one of them brought in a help wanted ad for a position in Racine. At the Great Lakes Fire Department, Conyn was employed as a federal firefighter. While he said it was nice at the time, it was also a minimum wage job with more hours than he could recall. As such, he applied for the position in Racine and was accepted. He began working there in 1990, and stayed on until he came to Webster City.

Conyn said that he learned even more while in Racine. He places a lot of importance on education in the fire department. When he left the Racine Fire Department, he was the their lead instructor as well as a lieutenant firefighter and paramedic. Conyn said that every firefighter, including himself, has to continue to learn and better themselves for the benefit of themselves and the community as a whole.

"If you're done learning, you're done being a firefighter, period," Conyn. "If you think you know it all, you are now the most dangerous person on the fire ground."

Conyn has assisted with educating his fellow firefighters at a couple recent training sessions held in Webster City. At those sessions, firefighters worked at several different stations. They performed tasks such as laddering a building, using a fire hose, chopping wood with fire axes and tying rescue knots. While Conyn was one of the instructors at the sessions, he said all 26 members of the Webster City Fire Department offer insight.

"Everyone looks at a situation differently. Every person has value," Conyn said. "It's together that we put out a fire."

Conyn is looking to not just help firefighters improve mentally, but also physically. He is planning to clear out a space in the department to create a gym. Conyn said each member of the Webster City Fire Department has to stay fit. Again, it's important for both the firefighter and anyone they might be helping.

"I believe that if I can't save myself, I can't save you," Conyn said.

While Conyn has some of his own plans for the department, he enjoys some of its standing traditions. Every Saturday morning, past and current local firefighters gather for coffee and conversation at the station. Conyn said it gives past firefighters a chance to share their ideas for the department and how it can be involved in the community.

"Our profession is nothing more than walking on the shoulders of those that have gone before us," Conyn said. "We are moving forward what they did in the past."

As Conyn moves forward after about a month of work as Webster City's Fire Chief, he's very thankful for the great welcome the community has given him. He's thankful for the department that previous firefighters have built up for him and others. He's thankful for local businesses which allow firefighters to answer the call of service at a moment's notice. He's thankful for those firefighters which give their time to help the community.

If you happen to see Conyn around town, be sure to say hello. He always has time for it.

 
 
 

 

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