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Alabama Fire

Alabama's Firefighter of the Year made a big impression during Winter Storm Elliott

By Howard B. Owens


Winter Storm Elliott blew into the Town of Alabama again on Saturday night, this time in the form of memories and accolades for first responders during the Alabama Volunteer Fire Department's annual installation and awards banquet. 

Alabama Fire sheltered 40 people during the storm, among them the district's own president, Wendy Allen-Thompson, who stopped at the fire hall after she couldn't make it home in the storm.  She helped organize the storm response at the shelter. She was impressed by the response of department members as well as the stranded travelers she met during the storm.

"It's a memory of my Christmas and my birthday that I will never forget as long as I live," Allen-Thompson said. "I'm so happy I had the privilege of being a part of it."

Joe Bradt, manager of the Alabama Hotel, which also sheltered travelers during the storm, presented a check to the department for $2,500 -- the amount of money donated by the travelers who rode out the storm at the Hotel.

"What you guys did, I mean, we were there, and we were open, and we fed the people, but you guys got them there," Bradt said."That meant more to us than anything else."

The department received 369 dispatches in 2022, said Chief Gary Patnode. There were only two house fires.  Winter Storm Elliott was by far the biggest event of the year for the small, all-volunteer fire department.

It was a storm that was hard emotionally on firefighters, who, by instinct and training, rush to help people.  Alabama's members felt overwhelmed at times, as the storm raged and whiteout conditions prevailed, throughout the northwest portion of Genesee County, the chief said.

"When we get the call, and you know that there are 150 open 9-1-1 calls for vehicles that need to be cleared, and you can't see your hand in front of your face, you get overwhelmed with that helplessness feeling," Patnode said. "It's just because we're all Type-A personalities. We want to help people, and when you can't physically see to go out where it's safe, you feel helpless."

But Alabama's volunteers were ready and willing to give a rescue a try every chance they got, Allen-Thompson said. 

"I can't even begin to describe the heroism of these guys,"  Allen-Thompson said.  "You couldn't see anything. You couldn't drive. We were getting phone calls from stranded motorists. We had a bunch of them here that were stranded. People were calling 9-1-1, and they weren't getting help as fast as they wished they could, for obvious reasons, and so they just started looking up the number for the fire hall, and they were calling us. Rob (Crossen) would take the call, then another call, and then another caller. And he'd look at me, and I'd look to him, and I think we were all just getting pretty scared that people were gonna literally perish out there in their cars. So it was quite an experience, to say the least. We had people outside working, all these guys were out there in the cold, turning red, beet red, working on trying to help people, and they go out and bring a couple people back."

Crossen was tireless in his efforts, Allen-Thompson said, rescuing seven people, driving his truck with the driver's door open, one foot on the running board, peaking through space between the open door and the windshield to help improve the visibility as he drove.

He and the other volunteers brought back all kinds of people -- people from China, from Canada, from Russia, and other foreign lands. 

"We were a melting pot, which is unusual for this area for us," Allen-Thompson said. "I really enjoyed that a lot. I learned a lot. The one guy specifically who made the best rice I've probably ever eaten."

There was one man who was particularly impressed by Crossen.

"Rob kept going and going, and I still remember because it surprised me when a man said, 'you know about Rob Crossen? and I said of course,' but that really got my attention," Allen-Thompson said. "'Yeah, I think I do.' He said, 'Wendy, Rob told me he is 77 years old.' I was like, I couldn't believe it, and he said, 'Yes, Rob told me several times he is 77, and he was driving to save us.'"

Crossen's efforts during the storm are one reason he was named Firefighter of the Year.

Photos by Howard Owens.  Top photo, Todd Thompson and Ryan Thompson present Rob Crossen with the Firefighter of the Year Award.


Jerry and Karen Johnson, along with their three children, were special guests of the department for the dinner. The family sheltered 20 stranded travelers during the storm.

Karen said events started for them around 4:30 p.m. on Friday when a State Trooper knocked on their door.  His vehicle had been stuck in front of his house for five hours and he only just realized there was a home at his location.

"He goes, 'we got several strange motorists out here.' I said, 'Well, we have a heated shop if they need somewhere to stay, please bring them in.' And he was like, 'well, we're not at that point yet.'"

About an hour and a half later, he said he needed to start bringing stranded motorists to the Johnson's shop.

"One of them was literally at the end of our driveway for five and a half hours, and we didn't even know," Karen said. "We couldn't see him, couldn't hear him."

By the end of Friday night, there were 22 people in the shop plus two state troopers.

"We're like, 'what are you gonna feed these people?' Karen said. "We'll do the best we can, you know. Unfortunately, that night they had a dinner of macaroni and cheese and frozen pizza."

Like other shelter locations, the travelers came from many parts of the world.

The Johnson's children helped entertain the children who came to the shop.

"There was a little girl who was seven years old," Karen said. "She and her family, there were six of them, they were on their way to Hawaii. She got to go in the house most of the time. She played games. My children kept her occupied.  When it came time to go, she looked sorry.  She looked at her dad, and she goes, 'This was better than going to Hawaii.'"

There was a bit of a Christmas miracle in the Johnson household during the event, Karen revealed.

"For the first time, my kids pulled together for three days," she said. "No arguing."

For The Batavian's complete coverage of Winter Storm Elliott, click here.


Gary Patnode and Wendy Allen-Thompson receive a $2,500 check from Joe Bradt, general manager of the Alabama Hotel.

See also: Alabama has its own Christmas story to tell, and stranded travelers aren't 'home alone'


The Indian Falls Volunteer Fire Department was recognized with the Service Award, presented by Chief Gary Patnode. The award was in recognition of the support on mutual aid calls provided by Dave Olsen, LuAnn Mileham, Chief Ed Mileham, and Matt Delre (not pictured) as members of the Indian Falls department.

"Alabama Fire, like many other agencies, struggles to answer 9-1-1 calls during the day," Patnode said. "For many years these individuals have played a vital role in Alabama Fire being able to respond and answer your calls while providing the necessary patient care until the ambulance arrives."

See also: County's smallest department kept travelers fed, warm, and safe during Winter Storm Elliott


Terry Thompson presented the EMS awards to Mark Smith and Brianna Smith.


Brianna Smith received the "Rising Star" award from Wendy Allen-Thompson.


Sydney Eick was honored for 50 years of service to the department, which included a proclamation from Assemblyman Steve Hawley, and for responding to the most calls in 2022. 


Assemblyman Steve Hawley administered the oath of office to the elected and appointed officers of the Alabama Volunteer Fire Department.


  • President, Wendy Allen-Thompson
  • Vice president, Joseph Uhrinek
  • Chief Gary P. Patnode
  • Treasurer Tony Mudrzynski
  • Secretary, Leah Thompson
  • Board of Directors: Richard Brunea, Henry Mudrzunski, Gary L. Patnode, Allison Thompson, Ryan Thompson
  • Bell Jar Secretary, Clayton Fry
  • Hall Steward, Terry Thompson


  • Deputy Chief, Sid Eick
  • 1st Assistant Chief, Terry Thompson
  • 2nd Assistant Chief, Ryan Thompson
  • Captain, Todd Thompson
  • EMS/Fire Captain, Richard Brunea
  • EMS Captain, Brianna Smith
  • EMS Lieutenant, Mark Smith
  • Fire Police Captain, Henry Mudrzynski


Henry Mudrzynski gave a talk on the history of the department, which included showing off the bylaws from 1950.

Here's a video produced the Town of Alabama Highway Department about the storm.

Tony Mudrzynski has volunteered with Alabama Fire and isn't ready to quit

By Virginia Kropf


Tony Mudrzynski was recently recognized by the Alabama Volunteer Fire Company for achieving an incredible milestone.

At their installation and awards banquet on March 8, Mudrzynski was honored for 70 years of active membership in the fire company.

Another former Alabama resident, Gordon Baubie, has also been a member for 70 years, but now lives in Penn Yan and was unable to attend.

Mudrzynski was born in 1934 on Fisher Road in Oakfield, one of seven children, all of whom were born at home. His family moved to a farm on Lockport Road when he was 2 months old.

When Mudrzynski’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer, he put the farm up for sale.

“I crawled into the haymow and cried for an hour,” he said. “Luckily, the farm didn’t sell.

His father died when Mudrzynski was 16, and at the end of his sophomore year, he quit school to take care of his mother and siblings.

“I loved farming, and that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.

When his mother died at 95, she had never been in a hospital, Mudrzynski said.

Tony and his brother Hank eventually bought the farm, and later two others down the road.

No one in Tony’s family had been a member of the fire company, but he decided it was something he wanted to do to help other people.

“And you never know when you might need a firefighter,” he said.

Tony joined the Alabama Volunteer Fire Company on Feb. 11,  1952, just two days before his 18th birthday. The fire department was just five years old. Hank would join several years later, just two weeks after he turned 18, and has also served various roles, including 13 years as chief.

Tony said he was offered the job as chief, but turned it down.

“Somebody had to be at home to milk the cows,” he said. “I have held every office but chief.”

He has been treasurer for at least 15 years. He continues in that role, goes to Buffalo regularly to get bingo supplies, volunteers every week to get things ready for bingo, counts the money and makes the deposit.

Tony can rattle off every piece of equipment the fire company ever purchased, its model, and what they paid for it. Their first new truck was bought in 1950 at a cost of $10,000. Their last piece, a pumper/tanker bought in 2018, cost $434,000.

Tony recalls the first carnival the fire company had on schoolhouse grounds in Alabama Center.

“We made 150 gallons of chowder and sold it all,” he said. “We had a fund drive at that carnival to build the two-bay building across the road. Hank and I tore the old down. That was around 1954.

In the early days, there were four of five phones in homes in the districts where fire calls would ring into. Then those people would notify the other firefighters.

Tony said he used to respond to nearly every call. His first major fire was Kelsey’s barn on Macomber Road.

Tony was actively involved with the fire company when they acquired the land to build the hall on Judge Road in South Alabama. He said Guy and Ken Simons donated two acres of land and the fire company purchased another 4.2 acres. The hall was built in 1956. Carnivals were held there until the mid-1980s when they served fish fries on Friday night.

When chicken barbecues became popular, Tony looked into having one for the fire company. Their first one was in June 1956, and they have had them every year since, except during the pandemic. Last year was take-out only, he said.

He has also worked on their annual auctions the first Saturday in October, dating back to the first one in 1956, which netted $2,000. The second year it netted $800, and since profits have soared from $6,000 to $8,000.

“We don’t have to canvas the neighborhood anymore for donation,” Tony said. “People just bring us their stuff.”

When the recreation hall was built in 1967, the fire company went full steam with bingo.

Tony married Helen Fry in 1967. She had two children. She died 15 years ago.

Tony’s wife, mother, and sister Josephine were all active members of the Ladies Auxiliary, which sadly has disbanded due to lack of membership.

In 1992, Tony ran for town supervisor and ended up serving for 22 years.

Tony doesn’t respond to active calls anymore, but he is still articulate in his bookwork.

“My balance is not that good anymore, so I don’t belong out there fighting fires,” he said.

But he will still continue his work as treasurer and continue checking out the fire hall a couple of times a week to make sure everything is alright.

“The people I’ve met and the friendships I’ve made through the fire service and being town supervisor can’t be replaced by anything,” Tony said. “I wouldn’t give them up for the world, and I have no regrets about quitting school.”

Photos by Howard Owens




Alabama Fire honors its own, installs new officers

By Virginia Kropf

For the first time in two years, the Alabama Volunteer Fire Company held an award and installation banquet.

The fire company was not able to have their annual banquet in 2020 or 2021 due to Covid, and decided to scale down the event this year due to continued concerns, said president Wendy Allen-Thompson.

The banquet took place on March 8 on the evening of the regular monthly meeting, with dinner catered by Penna’s, presentation of awards, and installation of officers.

Allen-Thompson was emcee for the evening.

First on the agenda was remembering four members who died during 2020. They are Edwin “Ed” Schoenthal, Leo Snyder, Henry Brunea, and Gary Tripp.

Rick Brunea, deputy chief, presented the first award of the evening – the EMS Award to the entire Alabama Rescue Squad, to honor all members who responded to emergencies during the past years.

The Service Award was presented by vice president Joe Uhrinek to Pat Buczek, a longtime and active member who always steps up in an emergency.

“He is dependable, a capable driver and pump operator,” Uhrinek said. “You can always count on him.”

Two past Firefighters of the Year, Brian and Todd Thompson, chose to name the entire fire company as “Firefighters of the Year” this year.

“They all had to step up more than other years, and there was not one who stepped up above the others,” the Thompsons said. “We are all a team in everything we do.”

Allen-Thompson’s President Award was new this year and recognized a new member of at least one year and not more than five. She chose Joshua Miller as the recipient of the Rising Star Award.

He has attended all his firefighting classes and is up-to-date with his training, Allen-Thompson said.

Allen-Thompson then presented a pin to members for years of service, in addition to a special gift for members with active service.

New members introduced were Brianna Bronson-Smith, Mark Smith, and Jacob Cook.

Three members were recognized for 10 years of service from 2019 to 2020. They are Ryan Thompson, Diane Fry and Mike Bielski.

Recognized for 2021 for one year were Bob Kehlenbeck, Joshua Mullen, and Gary R. Patnode; five years, Joe Uhrinek; 10 years,  Michelle Patnode and Kristopher Thompson; 20 years, Gloria Abrams; 35 years, Jeff Sage; 40 years, Ron Bauer; and 70 years, Gordon Baubie and Tony Mudrzynski.

Baubie, who now lives in Penn Yan, did not attend the banquet, but Rob Crossen offered to take him a fire department blanket as a souvenir for his years of service.

Proclamations were presented from Assemblyman Stephen Hawley to Todd Thompson. Tony Mudrzynski received proclamations from Hawley and Senator Mary Lou Rath.

New officers were installed by Kevin Fisher, deputy supervisor/councilman of the town of Alabama. They are president, Wendy-Allen Thompson; vice president, Joe Uhrinek; treasurer, Tony Mudrzynski; secretary, Leah Thompson; financial secretary, Rob Crossen; Bell jar secretary, Clayton Fry; and board of directors, Terry Thompson, Hank Mudrzynski, Rick Brunea, Gary Patnode Sr. and Alison Thompson.

Fire Chief is Gary Patnode Jr. Appointed officers are deputy fire chief, Rick Brunea; assistant fire chiefs, Pat Buczek and Sid Eick;  captain, Ryan Thompson; lieutenant, Todd Thompson; EMS captain, Terry Thompson; and fire police captain, Hank Mudrzynski.

Photos by Howard Owens.


Joshua Miller


Pat Buczek receives service award from Joe Uhrinek.

Town of Alabama Fire Department to bolster fire prevention efforts with FM Global grant

By Billie Owens

A FM Global representative recently presented the grant to First Assistant Chief Nik Bruner, middle, and Second Assistant Chief Bill Schutt, left, at the Town of Alabama Fire Department Station One located on Judge Road, Alabama.

Submitted photo and press release:

The Town of Alabama Volunteer Fire Department has received a $1,500 fire prevention grant from FM Global, one of the world’s largest commercial property insurers.

The award will be used to assist with prefire planning to efficiently collect and track data related to local community buildings.  The information will help the fire service respond in an emergency situation.

Because fire continues to be the leading cause of property damage worldwide, during the past 40 years FM Global has contributed millions of dollars in fire prevention grants to fire service organizations around the globe. The company has awarded grants to a number of New York-based organizations.

“At FM Global, we strongly believe the majority of property damage is preventable, not inevitable,” said Michael Spaziani, manager of the fire prevention grant program. “Far too often, inadequate budgets prevent those organizations working to prevent fire from being as proactive as they would like to be. With additional financial support, grant recipients are actively helping to improve property risk in the communities they serve.”

Through its Fire Prevention Grant Program, FM Global awards grants to fire departments—as well as national, state, regional, local and community organizations worldwide—that best demonstrate a need for funding, where dollars can have the most demonstrable impact on preventing fire, or mitigating the damage it can quickly cause.

To learn more about FM Global’s Fire Prevention Grant Program, or to apply for a grant, please visit

Alabama firefighters hold annual banquet and awards presentation

By Howard B. Owens


Alabama Volunteer Fire Department held its annual awards banquet and installation of officers.

Sid Eick achieved the rare distinction of winning both the Service Award, selected by the chief, and the Fireman of the Year Award, selected by the previous three winners of the award.

Eick has been active for 44 years and is currently a captain.

Several members were also honored for their years in service, including Gloria Abrams and Barbara Lee Hendershott for 15 years, Robert Eick for 20 years, Todd Thompson and Jeffrey Sage, for 30 years, and at 50 years -- Henry Brunea.

Brunea received a watch and a citation from Assemblyman Steve Hawley.

The installed fire officers are: Chief -- Gary Patnode; 1st Assistant Chief -- Nikkolas Bruner; 2nd Assistant Chief -- William Schutt; Captains -- Patrick Buczek &  Sidney Eick; Lieutenants -- Aron Kehlenbeck & Ashley Covel; EMS Captain -- Richard Brunea; EMS Lieutenant -- Terry Thompson; Fire Police Captain -- Ryan Thompson; Health & Safety Officer -- David Kinney.

Service officers: President --Robert Crossen; Vice President -- Patrick Buczek; Treasurer -- Anthony Mudrzynski; Secretary -- Michelle Patnode; Financial Secretary --Rebecca Borkholder; Board of Directors -- Henry Mudrzynski, Rick Brunea, Edwin Schoenthal, Donald Sage, & Gary Patnode Sr.; Chaplain -- Ralph Bauer; Bell Jar Secretary -- Clayton Fry.

The theme of the event was "Prom," so of course, there were Prom King and Queen and their Court. Prom King -- Tony Mudrzynski; Prom Queen -- Jo Anna Benaquist; Prince -- Ryan Thompson; Princess -- Jenna Wozniak; Jester -- Chad Pratt.

Photos and info provided by Alison Thompson.



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