When alarms ring, family of 4 leaves to fight fires together
BREINIGSVILLE, Pa. (AP) —
On a Tuesday night in March, Mark and Candi Krause and their daughters, McKenah Wehr and Aubree Romig, had just finished making hot dogs and setting plates on the table at their Upper Macungie Township home. At 5:13 p.m., their phones blared with a 911 call: a smoke investigation on Haasadahl Road.
Less than 10 minutes later, the call upgraded to a full house fire.
“That’s the ultimate time for a fire call,” Mark Krause said recently. “Every time you sit down for dinner —”
“There go the tones,” McKenah chimed.
He snatched his keys and ran out the door. Candi ripped open the fridge to grab mustard and ketchup, wrapped the hot dogs in a paper towel, stuffed everything in a lunch box and grabbed the bag of rolls.
She and McKenah, 19, drove together to the scene with their helmets, vests and wands to control traffic as fire police. Aubree, 15, tagged along to take pictures for the station’s social media. Mark, the fire engineer, would meet them there, driving the fire truck.
About four hours later, they ate cold hot dogs together on the fire police vehicle.
That was McKenah’s first fire call, completing a family unit who fights fires together at the Upper Macungie Fire Station 56.
“Usually you see like a father and son or father and daughter,” Station 56 chief Matt Sadrovitz said. “I have never in my experience seen all the family in its entirety.”
That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. Volunteer firefighting, where tradition runs deep, has long been a place for families. But as volunteers dwindle, not many families like the Krauses exist.
“It’s very rare anymore,” said Doug Gernerd, a fourth generation firefighter and chief of the neighboring Fogelsville station. “That’s a long tradition gone.”
Mark Krause joined the Fogelsville station, another of the township’s three stations, as a high school senior in 1991, following in his older brother’s footsteps. Candi used to be married to another firefighter before she started dating Mark in 2008.
“You know how they say every girl has a type?” she said. “I definitely fell in that category.”
Mark left firefighting to help Candi raise her daughters. A decade later, life started to settle down. The girls were in high school. Mark became a volunteer again in 2020. Candi had always been the fire wife, but a few months after Mark rejoined, Candi felt the bug.
“It really is a brotherhood. It’s an extension of your family,” she said. “I just figured it was my turn.”
Firefighting wasn’t for her — she took the test and threw up in her mask. Instead, she became a fire police volunteer — the person who shuts down an intersection to keep cars and people away from a scene.
Aubree’s biological father was a firefighter, too. Seeing her parents join up again made her want to.
“I kind of had a feeling I was going to,” she said.
At 15, Aubree isn’t even old enough for the station’s junior firefighter program. But these days, with volunteer numbers near crisis level, fire chiefs are not inclined to turn anyone away.
“Since the Commonwealth is so reliant on the volunteer fire service, age isn’t the limiting factor many would think,” said Paul Vezzetti, spokesperson for the Office of the State Fire Commissioner. “There are many ways to serve.”
Sadrovitz decided she could take pictures of the station, fire scenes and community events to document on social media, and take on projects around the station. She gets her own protective equipment, he said, “so she could feel part of the team.”
Then McKenah started to feel left out.
“They’d always talk about the things they did, the people they talked to, characters at the station,” she said. “It just seemed interesting and fun, and I was like, why not give it a try?”
Not eager to run into burning buildings, she took her 16-hour class in March to become fire police, like her mom.
By day, Candi and Mark work for New Enterprise Stone and Lime; Candi as an office administrator in the heavy highway construction department and Mark as a heavy equipment operator on the quarry side. Their employer lets them clock out for fire calls. McKenah spends three nights a week at The Beauty Institute in Allentown.
They never know what a call might interrupt at home.
This summer, the family was about to go out one night. McKenah even was wearing a sundress and fancy sandals. But they got a call for a car accident with rescue, so Candi and McKenah put bright yellow vests over their nice clothes and headed out the door.
The chief told McKenah, “Well, you get the best-dressed award.”
In a township with many warehouses and distribution centers, there are many commercial structure fire calls. The vast majority are accidental fire alarms.
“Yet we have to live in the mindset ... You have to be fully prepared to have a blazing fire,” Candi said.
There’s a lighter side to this job, too. Mark and Candi chair the community outreach committee, which plans neighborhood events, fundraisers and blood drives. The family spends holidays on the fire truck: driving around and handing out candy during Halloween, eggs for Easter, and chocolate at Christmas with Santa on a wooden sleigh being towed by a utility truck.
Last August, instead of the traditional National Night Out, the fire stations paraded their trucks around the township with lights and sirens, as residents stood on sidewalks cheering with signs that thanked them for their service. While Candi and Aubree stopped at a light, they saw a little girl holding a poster that said she wanted to be a firefighter when she grows up.
Candi shouted out the window, telling her to never let anybody tell her she can’t because she’s a girl.
“We’re girls and we’re on the team!” Candi yelled.
The girl’s eyes lit up and she shouted, “I can be a firefighter!”
The Krause family — which is what everyone calls them, despite having other last names — were close-knit before volunteering together. Candi, the “shenanigans causer,” always finds some sort of activity for them to go to, whether it’s a barbecue festival or some concert.
“Some of the other guys come here to get away from the rest of their family,” Mark laughs. But not him.
Both he and Candi’s families have been here for generations. McKenah and Aubree are already arguing over who will inherit their grandmother’s house.
“Every family has a story,” a sign on their living room wall says. “Welcome to ours. The last names may not match, but the hearts certainly do.”