For more than a half-century, in any emergency out in the country of western York County, Pete Childers was there.
Fires, car wrecks, ice storms, rare snows. Pete, a volunteer firefighter with the Sharon Volunteer Fire Department, always helped.
Not sometimes. Not once in a while.
Pete’s final bell came Wednesday, and he was buried on Saturday. He was 82.
His real name was Fred, but this Korean War veteran and Purple Heart recipient was Pete. He and his wife, Betty – the retired longtime postmaster at the tiny Sharon post office – had no children. That meant that Sharon’s 500 or so people, and plenty more in surrounding areas, were their family.
“Pete treated the fire department like they were his kids and, really, everybody that he met,” said Sharon Fire Chief Oliver Dowdle. “He had a special way with people. He could console people after a crash, something bad, and make them feel better. Not everybody has that gift.”
Pete started in Sharon so long ago, there was just a single firetruck that carried 500 gallons of water. He was one of six firefighters in those early days. All of those tough guys would leave jobs and homes when the bell rang and go.
Pete never stopped going for 55 years.
In rural departments, especially before York County’s population boom over the past 20 years, fire departments made up of volunteers were all that kept calamity from the door. Guys like Pete were the difference between a home, barn or small business burning to the ground or being saved.
Pete saved kids from twisted car wrecks and old ladies’ cats from trees.
“Pete Childers cared about the people,” Dowdle said. “How he helped, lived his life, he showed what it is like to give back.”