OWEGO -- After over 40 years of spur-of-the-moment calls out to often dangerous or life-threatening scenes, the Tioga County Legislature recently beamed at the opportunity to recognize county Fire Coordinator Frank Okrasinski for his "many years of dedicated service" as he is set to retire from that post at the end of this year.
In April 1976, Okrasinski noticed that his neighbor had a grass fire on their property and he ran next door to help the fire crew.
At that time, it was suggested that he join the fire department -- which he then did.
From there, Okrasinski worked his way through the ranks and joined the county's fire investigation team in November 1983.
In 1987, he became fire chief at Owego's Southside Fire Department -- a position he held until 2011.
During that time, Okrasinski was employed by the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control as a Hazardous Materials Specialist.
In 1993, he became a senior fire investigator.
"Frank was appointed to the position of Tioga County Assistant Fire Coordinator on May 4, 1993," said Legislator Bill Standinger. "And appointed as Tioga County Fire Coordinator on September 9, 2016 and served Tioga County in these capacities for more than 24 years."
At one point in his career, Okrasinski's work brought him to New York City -- with boxes of charts and files in hand -- where he testified in a civil case as a result of a fire investigation in Lockwood.
"Needless to say, this man has had a colorful career," said Legislative Chair Martha Sauerbrey. "Being around him is an experience, let me tell you. We hate to say goodbye, but we want to say 'thank you, Frank.'"
"Frank was a leader, a mentor, a favored friend to all the firefighters he encountered, guiding and advising them as they developed the skills of firefighting," Standinger said. "The Tioga County Legislature, on its own behalf, as well as on behalf of the citizens of Tioga County, express sincere gratitude and recognize Frank R. Okrasinski, Jr. for his years of dedicated service to Tioga County."
"That being said, I've worked with Frank on the fire investigation team for a number of years," said Standinger. "And I will say that he is very enthusiastic -- certainly dedicated -- and that is indicated by the number of firemen that are in the room today. Thank you, Frank."
"Thank you for the honor -- the best part about this job was those mentors that guided me along and the partners I've had," said Okrasinski. "and those guys in the back -- the fire chiefs who made sure in the middle of the night that I had coffee and pizza -- those are the guys that are the Bureau of Fire. Those are the guys that really make it happen."
"We had a lot of good times," he continued. "We had some really bad times -- but, it's those guys that made everything happen."
"I'm certainly going to miss dispatch," said Okrasinski. "I'm going to miss the calls in the middle of the night telling me the radio tower isn't working."
"The one thing I'm grateful for is my association with the fire and EMS people in Tioga County," he said. "It's helped my family become a caring part of the community, also. My daughter is in the fire department and teacher at BOCES. My grandson, 15-years-old, has joined the Baldwinsville Fire Department -- he looks funny in his turn-out gear. I had to share a pair of boots when I first started out."
"I believe the sacrifice that these deputy coordinators and our families make truly make Tioga County a great place to live," he said. "And thank you very much for this -- I really appreciate it."
Each individual in the packed county office building auditorium offered a standing ovation.