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Generations of service in Port Jervis Fire Department

By SHARON SIEGEL, Senior Correspondent | January 20, 2021 | NEW YORK

Story No. 012021109

Port Jervis, NY - Now in its 174th year of emergency service, Port Jervis Fire Department continues to operate as an all-volunteer department with generations of families faithfully stepping up to serve. One family of firefighters – the Dunn Family – has provided five consecutive generations of service, beginning shortly after the founding of its company of choice in October of 1877.

The first generation of PJFD Dunn firefighters was Emmulis (E.R.) Dunn, who joined in 1879, two years after the formation of Port Jervis Hose Co. No. 4 in 1877. Hose Co. 4 was later renamed Howard Wheat Engine Company No. 4, following the death of longtime company member/25-year PJFD Chief Howard Wheat. The first group photo taken of the now nearly century-and-a-half year old Engine 4 membership shows E.R. Dunn standing next to the company’s then hose cart apparatus.

The second generation of PJFD Dunn firefighters were three of E.R.’s sons, who also joined Engine 4. They were firefighters Bert Dunn (1897), Henry Dunn (1898), and Clarence Dunn (1902).

The third generation Dunn firefighter was Henry Dunn’s son Harold Marvin Dunn, Sr. who joined Engine 4 at age 18 in 1928. Harold went on to become an apparatus driver and captain of the company.

The fourth generation of Engine 4 firefighters are Harold M. Dunn, Sr.’s two sons. Henry III joined in 1966 and Harold (Marvin) M. Dunn, Jr. shortly after his brother. Both Henry and Marvin became apparatus drivers and line officers in their company. Harold, Jr., a past First Lieutenant, moved from the area and is no longer a member. Henry III, a Past Captain in the company, continues to serve as an active volunteer fireman. This year, 2021, Henry III will have served 55-years as a PJFD firefighter with Howard Wheat Engine Co. No. 4.

The fifth generation of Dunn Family firefighters is Keegan T. Dunn, son of Henry Dunn III. Keegan joined Howard Wheat Engine Co. No 4 as a junior firefighter at age 16, in 2012, and went on to become a certified firefighter at 18. He continues to serve as a firefighter in his current Maryland community, and whenever he returns home to his Port Jervis hometown.

Stories specific to the two current Dunn firefighters, Henry III and his son Keegan, follow.

Henry H. Dunn III

Henry H. Dunn III was born in Port Jervis, NY on January 15, 1948. He graduated from Port Jervis High School in 1966, the same year he became a PJFD firefighter, at age 18.

After high school, Dunn graduated from the New York State Police Academy, became a New York State trooper, and worked in multiple positions with NYSP until his retirement. Prior to that he served as a police officer with the Port Jervis Police Department and as an engineer on the railroad.

While still in his teens, Dunn also joined the United States Army, completed a three-year military term with the military police and as a military dog handler in Vietnam, where he volunteered for and completed a second tour of duty.

As a firefighter, Dunn said it seemed only natural for him to follow his family’s line of service and he was proud to serve alongside his father, and then with his son. Among his proudest moments in the fire service was when his own son Keegan, then 18, was elected 2nd Lt. in their company, Engine 4.

“While driving to different fire calls, this enabled Keegan to sit next to me in the officer’s front seat,” Dunn said.

Now in his 55th year of firefighting service, in which he was also a member of the dive team and is a fire police officer, Dunn recalls among his toughest responses the devastating building collapse at Pike and Hammond Streets in the 1970’s. This tragic event claimed both property and lives. It was recalled by Dunn as a particularly long and stressful day for all emergency responders.

As a firefighter, Dunn said he and other emergency responders are rewarded with the knowledge that they are helping others when they need it the most.

“Being in public service is a way to give back to your community,” Dunn said. “Volunteers save many communities a tax increase by not having to pay for fire related services, and PJFD is one of only a few cities in New York State that has an all-volunteer fire department.”

Would he recommend others to become a volunteer firefighter?

“If you show an interest, do it!” he said.

Keegan T. Dunn

Keegan T. Dunn grew up accompanying his father Henry H. Dunn III to the firehouse where generations of Dunn Family members had served in his company before him. It was these roots and being constantly around the firehouse that Keegan said motivated him to join as soon as he was old enough to become a junior firefighter at 16 and a fireman at 18.

“I can remember sitting down as a child with my father and looking at pictures of his father and my grandfathers in Engine 4 when they responded to calls utilizing horses and hose carts,” Keegan recalled. “Knowing that I follow this long line of firefighting history in my family that I’m continuing to this day is very empowering and moving, and to think we continue on that legacy is very important to not only me but my family.”

Keegan currently lives in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where he also serves in his career as a police officer. He continues to volunteer as a firefighter whenever he is in his hometown of Port Jervis and there is a call, and as a volunteer fireman with Berwyn Heights Fire Department in Maryland.

After high school, Keegan completed college at Onondaga County Community College in Syracuse, New York. He earned a degree in Fire Science, but entered a career in law enforcement after moving to Maryland. When off duty as a police officer, he remains an active firefighting volunteer in his Maryland community.

“As a firefighter, what I hope to accomplish is just being there for someone on their worst day and hopefully making a difference for the better,” Dunn said.

His advice for anyone thinking of becoming a firefighter?

“If you’re thinking of pursuing a career in firefighting, do research and be willing to dedicate time to the department,” Keegan said. “In return you will make lifelong friends and make a huge difference in the community.”

This article is a direct street report from our correspondent and has not been edited by the 1st Responder newsroom.