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Eighteen years with ESFD fire police grew

from desire to serve after 9/11

The sign in front of the Eastern Salisbury Fire Department fire station along East Emmaus Avenue, at Honeysuckle Road, almost always displays the message “Volunteers Needed.”

The sign caught the attention of Angel Rodriguez as he drove along Emmaus Avenue shortly after the 9/11 attack on America. The patriotic fervor felt by so many Americans after that tragic day was strong in Rodriguez also, and he had been looking for a way to serve his country, his community.

His son, Jeremy, earlier in the year had joined the U.S. Marines and later served in Iraq. Rodriguez wanted to do his age-appropriate part too.

Rodriguez stopped into the station on a Monday evening training night. Considering he was in his 50s at the time, a conversation with Frank Bummer, captain of the department’s fire police unit, convinced Rodriguez that a position with the fire police squad was more appropriate to his capabilities than a firefighter’s duties.

Rodriguez has been a constant at ESFD fire and accident scenes since he was sworn in as a special fire police officer in early 2002, after serving out his six-month probationary and training time.

A native of the Bronx, N.Y., Rodriguez lived a few blocks from a FDNY station and remembers always trying to find an excuse, as a 10-year-old, to bicycle or walk near the station house. As many youngsters his age, Rodriguez wondered if he could be a fireman when he grew up.

That childish notion was put aside when he moved to Allentown in 1973 and started a 41-year career with PPL. That notion stirred again after the twin towers were brought down.

Rodriguez said his years as a special fire police officer have been rewarding for the most part. “I enjoy being able to direct people around a fire or accident scene, especially when they are not from the area and they find a detour stressful.”

Sometimes, though, he said, it can be tough dealing with motorists who get angry and take the inconvenience of a detour personally and get abusive with the person directing traffic. “You can’t be effective if you get angry also; it’s always best to be calm and as helpful as you can be,” he said.

One of the most satisfying instances came a few winters back when a nasty storm brought an “all hands on deck” situation and Eastern Salisbury firefighters and fire police personnel were staying overnight at the station staffing an emergency center and answering calls based on the priority of their severity.

Rodriguez was answering a call to direct traffic around a semi-trailer stuck on an icy patch waiting for a tow truck to assist.

“Before, I got too far, a tree came down directly in front of me, blocking Emmaus Avenue completely in front of the charter school campus near Church Road.” Rodriguez was able to radio back about the new hazard and the Lehigh County 911 Center re-dispatched him to secure the scene before it could lead to bigger problems.

Rodriguez’s desire to serve has also led him to assist his church and impact the ministries at Church on the Move in Allentown, now Life Church.

Rodriguez started serving as a sound technician in the 1990s at the church’s Allentown campus, just as the sound system was being changed from an analog to a digital system.

His dedication to that task and his involvement in the church’s men’s ministry, led church officials to seek his assistance for the church’s outreach efforts, assigning him to a satellite church meeting at Broughal Middle School in Bethlehem. His work there led to two years of study, after which he was ordained as a church minister last year.

Sometimes, his church and community service can present conflicts. Rodriguez says his dedication to his faith helps him make the right choices. “At this point in my life, I put God first, my family second, then my community. Sometimes, if I’m committed to a church activity, I have to disregard my pager sounding off and trust that my fellow fire police officers will be able to handle things just fine.”

PRESS PHOTO BY JIM MARSHSpecial Fire Police officer Angel Rodriguez volunteers at a recent hazardous materials cleanup scene in Salisbury Township.