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Published: Friday, 6/15/2007

Rossford welcomes firefighters

BY ERIKA RAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Rossford firefighters have taken part in the Northwest Ohio Volunteer Firefighters' Association Convention for years, but have always had to travel to another community to participate in the festivities.

This year, the 35 Rossford firefighters don't have to trek farther than their own community because the city was chosen to play host to the convention for the first time.

"I think it'll be very exciting for the city," Rossford Mayor Bill Verbosky, Jr., said. "It's a rare honor to host the event."

The full weekend of fire-fighting activities that make up the 133rd annual NOVFA convention begins today and ends tomorrow evening.

"This is a great family weekend for firefighters to come and show their commitment to the communities they serve, and let loose a little bit," said Rossford Fire Chief Jim Verbosky, the mayor's brother. "It's kind of like a big festival. We are encouraging the whole community to come out and support the thing."

The convention draws attendance from the 333 departments that are members of NOVFA. It's estimated that more than 10,000 firefighters, their families, and members of the community are expected to stroll around downtown Rossford, population 6,357, for this year's event.

"We do expect a lot of tourists," the mayor said. "We're excited to have them here and look forward to it."

He and other members of the community said they're looking forward to showing off everything Rossford has to offer.

"We want to say, 'Hey, this is Rossford. This is what we are and this is what we do,'•" said Firefighter John Woycitzky, convention co-chairman.

Planned activities will begin today with a water ball competition at the Rossford Community Recreation Center, where firefighters can show off their skills.

The 133rd Annual Queens' Pageant will begin around 5 p.m. across the street at Rossford High School.

Even though Rossford's queen, Leigh Yenrick, 18, can't participate in the competition because she is the host queen, she plans to play a role in the pageant and the convention.

"Whatever they ask me to do, I'm just here to do," said the Rossford High School graduate, who is headed in the fall to Bowling Green State University to major in musical theater.

She has already sold raffle tickets and recently helped make pancakes at the firefighters' annual pancake breakfast.

Miss Yenrick was crowned Miss Rossford Fire Queen 2007 after submitting an essay about why she wanted the title, which she said was as a tribute to her grandfather, who was an Oregon firefighter for more than 40 years.

The rest of this evening will be punctuated with noise coming from a fire truck cruise, beginning at 6 p.m. Vehicles will parade through town until 11 p.m., with their bright lights flickering and loud sirens blaring when they're not in the city's quiet zone.

The trucks will be ridden by firefighters, who plan to pick up members of the community along the truck route and take them for a ride.

The cruise will begin at Pilkington PLC and proceed down Dixie Highway to Eagle Point Road. The quiet zone will begin at Dixie and Eagle Point, and the trucks will continue to drive north on Hannum Avenue, west on Huffman Avenue, and south on Jennings Road before heading back down Eagle Point to Dixie.

Other planned evening activities include a beer garden on the lawn of the Rossford Municipal Building, which is the only designated alcohol area, and music by a Toledo firefighter bagpipers group and local band Big Ticket.

For the street and food vendors that will set up booths nearby, Osborn Street from Hillsdale Avenue to Dixie will be closed to all vehicle traffic until 7 p.m. tomorrow.

Other featured activities include games, food, and rides.

"It is a fun event," said Assistant Fire Chief Josh Drouard, co-chairman of the convention. "It brings a lot of money in the city and shows off your city. People should have a good time here."

The event will also give the department an opportunity to showcase its new ambulance, which was purchased with funding from a 1-mill levy that voters approved in November, 2005.

The 2007 ambulance will be dedicated this weekend to John "Big John" Lonchyna, a 35-year veteran of the Rossford fire department who died last year.

Along with being the department's fire chief for nine years, Mr. Lonchyna served as the chief of rescue before retiring from the department in 1987.

Today's activities will wind down and close at 11:30 p.m.

After additional registration ends tomorrow, it'll be time for firefighters to get down to business.

"There's actual business that goes on here," Mr. Drouard joked.

The NOVFA business meeting is up first at 9 a.m. along with the NOVFA Women's Auxiliary meeting.

After the meetings, past presidents of NOVFA will meet for a noon luncheon at the Rossford Eagles.

The fun will resume at 1:30 p.m. with a 125-vehicle parade showcasing both new and historic fire trucks and featuring school marching bands, fire department queens, and community officials.

The parade will begin at Dixie and Lime City Road, proceed down Dixie, and end at the railroad tracks in front of Pilkington.

The parade's grand marshal is a group that will be honored this weekend for service to the United States - the Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, based in Perrysburg Township. One of its members is Rossford firefighter Sean Baney, who returned home from Iraq in April after seven months there with the U.S. Marines.

During the parade, a master of ceremonies will be stationed on Dixie in front of Bulldog Hall to announce participating departments, types of vehicles driven, and marching band groups as they pass by.

The 2007-08 queen also will be crowned tomorrow just before all the contestants ride in the parade.

To make room for all the vehicles moving through town, Dixie within the city limits will be closed from 12:30 p.m. until about 5 p.m., although the parade is expected to last about three hours.

Shortly after the parade ends, trophies will be given out and the raffle drawing will take place for cash prizes and this year's grand prize: a Honda ATV complete with a snowplow.

Convention merchandise, including glass mugs and T-shirts, are also on sale, with proceeds going to the Rossford Firefighters Association.

When all the trophies are given out, many will most likely pack up to go home.

It's a brief event compared to the time and effort that Rossford firefighters have been putting into planning the event.

"It's been a long year," Mr. Drouard said. "It takes a year to plan this - no lies."

Even though the event will run for two days, that doesn't mean fire and rescue services will cease during that time. The city will maintain those services and, for extra protection, has set up mutual aid with neighboring communities.

But everyone else should be hanging out in Rossford, cutting loose, and having some fun.

"If you can come up here and not have a good time," Mr. Woycitzky said, "there's something wrong."

Contact Erika Ray at:

eray@theblade.com

or 419-724-6088.



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