By Darren Marcy
WEST RUTLAND — Martha Alexander and her twin brother Alex Alexander — better known as Al — grew up right behind the West Rutland Fire Department and had a lifetime of appreciation for the work of the volunteer firefighters.
For 71 years, the siblings watched the volunteers race to the station at all times of the day and night, in good weather and bad, to dash off to save a house or respond to a car crash.
They got to know the men — and later women — of the station house and looked on with great admiration for their selfless duty and dedication.
At a recent West Rutland Select Board meeting, Martha Alexander made good on an offer she had previously made to Chief Joe Skaza.
In honor of her brother who died four years ago, she told the board that she was donating $500,000 to the fire department for a brand new fire engine to replace a 20-year-old truck that is the department’s workhorse.
“I didn’t know what to say,” Skaza said. “I didn’t have the words.”
Skaza said the selectmen’s reaction was the same and a few moments later at the weekly meeting at the station, he told the volunteers.
“To them, it was unbelievable,” Skaza said.
Monday, the firefighters greeted Martha Alexander and they posed for photos in front of the old truck that her donation will replace.
She said her brother was drawn to the station and the firefighters he found there.
“Al would have always liked to have been a fireman but never had the opportunity,” Martha Alexander said. “He always went down and visited with the boys. Over the years, he made friends with these fellows and ladies. He saw what good work they do. These fellows put in so much time. He always wanted to make sure they had what they needed so they wouldn’t get hurt.”
She said the appreciation she and her brother had for the fire department and firefighters came from watching them work.
“We have just seen these people the way they work over the years and wanted to do something for them,” Martha Alexander said. “I can’t say enough about them. I wish people would really appreciate how much they do.”
And this isn’t the first time the Alexanders have helped out the fire department.
Skaza said when they found out the newly built fire station didn’t have a kitchen as money ran out before it could be completed, they wrote a check turning unpainted sheetrock into a fully functional kitchen with stove, refrigerator and sink.
Last spring, Skaza said Martha Alexander paid to have the fire department’s parking area paved, but the chief remembered something from years ago that meant a lot to the crew.
He said that while helping with the town’s annual Christmas tree lighting, Alex Alexander would find Skaza and hand him an envelope.
“He’d say, ‘I’d like you and your firefighters to take your spouses out on Martha and me,’” Skaza said. “They’ve been longtime supporters.”
Alex Alexander died in April 2010, leaving Martha to represent the siblings.
When her brother died, Martha Alexander said it was the first time in 71 years except for when Alex Alexander was in the service, they were separated.
“Al and I did everything together,” Martha said.
Does she miss him?
“I do. Every day.”
The firemen were his pallbearers and his honor guard.
“That meant a lot to us,” Skaza said of Martha Alexander asking them to perform the honor. “We were honored to be there for Al. We were good friends.”
Now, 75, Martha Alexander said the chief checks up on her and Skaza said she keeps an eye on them.
“He calls me periodically to make sure I’m doing OK,” Martha Alexander said. “He says if I need anything, they’ll be right there to help me.”
Martha Alexander said she and her brother never left the home they grew up in.
The children of Peter and Catina Alexander, their older sister Florence was three years older. She left for college, but the twins told their mom she made life so good they didn’t want to leave.
When they decided to build a new home they tore down the old one and built the new home in the same spot.
“We love West Rutland so much,” Martha Alexander said. “We didn’t want to go anywhere.”
Skaza said the truck that is being replaced is 20 years old and is the front-line truck, meaning it is the first truck out the door and goes on every run.
The new truck will be a 2014 Pearce Pumper Velocity. It will carry a six-person crew with air tanks, along with 1,250 gallons of water and be outfitted with a 1,500-gallon pump.
“Martha will be the first person to ride in that truck,” Skaza said.
But appreciation, or fame, isn’t part of why the Alexanders have done what they’ve done.
“Al was one who never wanted glory,” Martha Alexander said. “I am very proud to be able to do this and very fortunately to be able to do this. I’m sure if he was alive, Al would have been right there with this. It’s where you put your priorities.”