AuSABLE FORKS — Alfred “Butch” Rougeau has firefighting in the blood.
His father, Henry, and his brother, Richard, were members of the AuSable Forks Volunteer Fire Department.
Most days, Rougeau can be found there. Now, a brass plaque engraved with his name graces the entrance to the fire station at 29 School Lane.
On Friday evening, Rougeau’s colleagues threw him a surprise party in recognition of his five decades of service, which was marked in June.
LIFE OF SERVICE
Born and raised in AuSable Forks, Rougeau hung around the old fire station with his father.
“My father said I should help people out,” the soft-spoken Rougeau said. “In those days, you take a penny postcard and said you wish to join.”
If a candidate was a good prospect, the fire department sent a penny postcard back informing the candidate to attend the next meeting.
Such was the case for Rougeau in June 1962. The old fire department was located next to the post office.
“They just squeezed two trucks in there,” he said.
When he joined, he was fresh out of the U.S. Army. He enlisted in January 1959 and served two years and two months.
The two months was a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
“Everybody got froze. I came back to my job at the Grand Union,” he said.
Rougeau worked for the company for 42 years, two less than he has been married to his wife, Rita.
He spent his days off at the firehouse.
“Most managers I had in the stores I went to were real lax about me being late if I was at a fire,” he said.
Firefighting training in those days was on the job. His first fire was a residence in Black Brook.
“We had some big, big fires,” Rougeau said. “In those days, you had a pair of boots and raincoats. All it did was keep water off of you.”
When he joined, he was the new kid on the truck. In a few short years, there was a changeover from the old firefighters to younger ones.
“We’ve come from two little trucks to nine big trucks. We used to run out of water. In those days, you were really scarce with the water. You better put it on the fire and nothing else.”
When Grand Union moved him to Plattsburgh, Peru, Keeseville, Lake Placid and Jay, Rougeau showed up at local fire stations to lend a hand.
His right hand holds a battle scar.
“I almost lost this finger. A pane of glass blew out and struck me right through there. The doctor ... stitched it on the same night, and I went back,” he said.
AMERICAN HOUSE FIRE
When Paul Votraw became AuSable Fork’s fire chief, the company modernized.
“We got a tanker truck and some air bags we never had before,” he said.
Membership increased from 30 to 40 to a high of 45.
The most memorable fire destroyed the 1840 American House Hotel in February 1975 on the site of the present-day Stewart’s in AuSable Forks.
“It was big … all night into the next day,” he said.
He called Fire Control to send “pumpers, pumpers, pumpers” and was teased by dispatch.
Rougeau has a red album with vintage photographs of firefighters in action at the hotel, but there were none of him.
“I was inside,” he said.
MENTOR TO ALL
The department’s hallway offers a visual history of the company including a photograph of every chief from the first, Dr. Joseph Scott, to the present, Jason Whisher.
Rougeau served under every one and with “famous” local department members Abe Lincoln and Calvin Coolidge.
Rougeau was also a founding member of the AuSable Forks Ambulance squad. A driver, he served from 1974 until 2011.
The impulse to serve passed from father to son.
“It went down,” he said.
Though Rougeau doesn’t have biological children, he has a whole firehouse of progeny forged in fire, dedication and loyalty.
“He has mentored all of us,” said Mike Cross, first assistant. “I would not be who I am today without him.”
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