- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

PLUMSTEADVILLE, Pa. (AP) - Despite the excruciating pain, the farmer knew his screaming for help would yield nothing.

The corn harvester that had ensnared J. Earle Yerkes’s left hand was in one of the far fields of his Durham Road dairy farm - about a mile from his house and his wife, Arlene.

But suddenly, she appeared.

It was a phone call about a fire that sent her out to find her husband - who even then, in 1978, was a longtime member of the Plumsteadville Fire Co.

She managed to untangle him from the machine and drove him to the hospital.

Yerkes lost the hand but knew how lucky he was to keep his life.

For that, he credits his wife and his decision in 1951 to join the fire company.

“Firefighting saved my life,” Yerkes said Monday, noting that if that call to respond to a blaze hadn’t led his wife to come find him, he might have died in that far field 38 years ago.

Yerkes spent the next six months recovering, but he never considered letting the disability change his life.

“I kept right on farming and kept right on fighting fires,” he said.

Yerkes reflected on his 65-year run with Plumsteadville Fire Co. from inside the fire station Monday, one night after receiving the company’s Firefighter of the Year award at Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce Emergency Service Awards.

It was a fire in a neighbor’s barn that inspired Yerkes to eventually volunteer.

“I got up there and just saw these guys that were just plain people like me, forking smoldering hay,” he recalled. “So I jumped in and helped.”

As the decades unfolded, Yerkes was forced to adapt to the advancing technology and training that became a part of firefighting.

“It’s quite an evolution,” he said. “When I joined there was no fire school. We didn’t even have drills. You learned on the fire-ground.”

He still marvels at the capability of the tanker trucks and the radios.

“We used to do everything by hand signals,” said Yerkes. “Once you left the station you were on your own if you didn’t know where the call was … The phone calls came into Plumstead Hotel and the bartender took the phone calls and marked them on the chalkboard outside the hotel on the porch … This was the dispatch system when I joined.”

The old-timer has made and lost many friends during his time with Plumsteadville.

“I really miss them,” he said. “I walk in here and I feel ghosts.”

Through the years, Yerkes has held nearly every position that exists within the company, including a long tenure as president.

“It got to the point where I stepped down because I was afraid that I had too heavy a hand and I didn’t want that to happen,” he said. “This had to be a community fire company, not a Yerkes fire company. However, when I stepped down, they turned around and elected my son as president.”

Yerkes laughed as he explained the transition, locking eyes with his son Joe Yerkes, who was also chuckling.

Joe Yerkes’s grin persisted as he described his first fire call with this dad back in 1973.

“We happened to be in the firehouse together, rolled up on the scene … he gave me the inch-and-a-half (hose) line and said ‘Don’t let this building burn,’” said Joe, still laughing.

Yerkes has several kids and grandkids that have been involved with firefighting over the years. And his wife has been a key member of the company’s women’s auxiliary group for close to 50 years.

“She made it all possible,” Yerkes said Monday, recalling how Arlene would take over cow-milking duties on the couple’s farm when he was called out to fire scenes. “That is quite a lady.”

Earlier this summer, Yerkes received word that he’d be receiving the Firefighter of the Year award, but his fellow members took it upon themselves to honor him in their own way, months prior to the banquet, on the Fourth of July.

Firefighters pulled up to Yerkes‘ farm with about half-a-dozen firetrucks for a surprise visit.

“It took a little while to realize what they were up to,” he said, adding how much it meant for so many of the members to take time away from their own holiday festivities to stop by his house.

He called Sunday’s banquet “overwhelming” and thanked the chamber of commerce.

On Monday, as he looked at the locker stall he had used for decades, he said he never gets a sense of sadness as he walks by. He is just happy to see it filled with gear and occupied by a younger firefighter, carrying on the tradition.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2eFzRpy

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Information from: The Intelligencer, https://www.theintell.com

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