SALAMANCA — After 28 years with the city’s fire department, Chief Nick Bocharski has retired.
A firefighter for most of his life, Bocharski was hired at the city in 1993 and appointed chief in May 2009. His last day was Monday.
“I got some plans in my head, some goals I want to accomplish before I get too old to accomplish them,” said Bocharski, 49, in a recent conversation with the Press. “Thankfully a job like this with a retirement allows me the luxury of trying to fulfill some of those goals.”
In 1987, at the age of 15, Bocharski volunteered for the fire department in the Town of Machias. After enrolling at Edinborough University in Edinborough, Pa., he volunteered for that city's fire department, too.
After college, Bocharski moved to Salamanca to take a job with the Salamanca Fire Department and began living out his boyhood dream.
“When I got here, Salamanca had almost no advanced life support, and the department needed more ALS,” he recalled. “I volunteered to go to a year’s worth of school for that, but my biggest passion was just down-and-dirty firefighting.”
In his nearly three decades at the city, Bocharski said there have been huge improvements in both equipment and technology. During his first couple of years, he said the department had great people but was just scraping by with what they had to use to fight fires.
“Over those 28 years, we’ve come to the forefront with modern computers, modern bunker gear, the advanced self-contained breathing apparatus and the trucks aren’t breaking down all the time,” he said. “We literally had fire trucks where the windshield wipers didn’t work so we had to pull them with a string.”
In addition to the technological advancements, Bocharski said the amount and variety of training firefighters go through today is nothing compared to when he began. He said about a third of his crew are certified to teach at the state level and their training facility behind the fire department has continued to develop and expand what firefighters can do.
Unfortunately, all that training has been put to the test over the past 28 years with several large fires, most notably the Fancher fire on Rochester Street just one year after Bocharski became chief as well as the Southern Tier Forest Products fire in 1998 and the Rail Depot fire of 2014.
“These guys preplanned all this stuff before they happened, which is why handling those went so well,” he said. “We’re preplanning to this day. You’re always fighting potential fires in your head during training.”
As the technology continues to advance, Bocharski said the younger generations understand the new updates much easier than his generation, especially with emergency medical training.
“We’re doing everything the emergency room used to do in the field now to the point we’re doing cardiac arrests in the house,” he said. “I’m comfortable doing that, but the technology keeps going to where I’m getting out of my element. These younger kids coming in can really take that to the next level.”
More than the action in the field or training and equipment upgrades, Bocharski said he’s going to miss the family he has in his crew. While many jobs are separate from the non-work life, he said life and work tend to blend with firefighters in a good way.
“A lot of these guys don’t have a lot of outside friends. Their friends are other firemen because it’s a huge family,” he said. “I’ve gone to other cities where if you stop by the firehouse they’ll treat you just like family, too.”
Bocharski said the job is always changing and no day is ever the same, but the comradery in the department allows for time to laugh, have fun and play practical jokes. “The sarcasm can get pretty thick,” he laughed.
Over the next couple of years, Bocharski said he plans to travel to Europe. As a war history buff, he said he wants to see some of the famous battlefields. He said he also wants to do waterfowl hunting trips in the midwest, and he and his wife plan to visit their children where they live.
Although a new chief has not been named yet, Bocharski said he wants his successor to enjoy the life a firefighter has. Even though they see a lot of things that aren’t always good, he said to make sure to laugh and have fun when you can.
“This is an excellent career choice,” he said. “Good retirement, good benefits and a lifestyle that, for the most part, is a happy one.”
(Contact managing editor Kellen Quigley at firstname.lastname@example.org)