Elroy Knepprath has the same level of passion for helping people today as he did half a century ago.
The Cedarburg Fire Department honored Knepprath on March 25 for his 50 years of service with the department.
Born and raised in Cedarburg, Knepprath joined the fire department in 1967 at the suggestion of a friend.
"Growing up, I always wanted to be a part of the fire department, so getting the little extra push from my friend to join was exactly what I needed," said Knepprath, who also worked full-time as a lift truck operator for American Can.
He put his work experience to good use in the department, operating the heavy rescue truck that he lovingly referred to as "Ole Gertie" for jobs such as pulling cars out of ditches and the snow. But for every successful call, there were always accidents and scenes that still make Knepprath visibly uncomfortable when describing them.
"Back then, you just learned to live with it and maybe you thought about it later when you got home," said Knepprath, who praised the efforts today to help first responders handle the pressure. "When you're dealing with those difficult situations, you try to do whatever you can to assist those in need."
Responding to fires was always a difficult task for Knepprath and his fellow volunteers, who were pulled away from their families on Christmas Day to answer the calls.
"Whenever I responded to a house fire, I always thought about my own home. It took a few months to build, and these fires could wipe out a home in a matter of minutes," said Knepprath, who still lives with his wife Iris in that same home on Western Road that he built 65 years ago.
Despite the risks and time commitment, Knepprath has remained dedicated to the department, a level of service that he notes has dwindled in recent years due to the decrease in volunteers.
These days, Knepprath is not as active in the field when it comes to emergency calls, but he does what he can to contribute to the department. This includes cutting the lawn at Firemen's Park, attending regular meetings, and picking up food for his fellow firefighters. That doesn't mean he still can't do more if he is needed.
"I've always got my pager on me just in case," said Knepprath.