As the city of Lebanon’s top firefighter, Duane Trautman has embraced his role in our community, and taken his passion to the next level.
Trautman is the city of Lebanon’s fire commissioner. Not only does he live in a renovated fire station, but his work vehicle and the personal vehicle he’s currently refurbishing are both fire apparatus. He sleeps with a monitor next to his bed and his fire-resistant jacket and helmet are laid out next to his trucks.
Most of Trautman’s life is spent on-call. And when he does get down time, he takes an active interest in the history of firefighting in Lebanon.
Firefighting isn’t what Trautman does. It’s who he is.
“It’s very demanding,” said Trautman, quite matter-of-factly. “It’s 24 hours a day. It takes everything I have as a human being to stay with it. If I had a family or a personal life, I shudder to think what it would be like. I love what I do, but at the end of the day, you’re that tired.
“I enjoy working hard,” Trautman continued. “I love the history of the fire department in Lebanon. I just want to do the best I can. I want to leave the city in better shape than I found it. I’m lucky to work. I largely live my hobby. But there is no question it has to be done.”
In many ways, Trautman is leading the life that chose him.
After exiting the United States Marine Corp in the early 1990s, Tratuman took the test to be a paid firefighter only at the urging of a friend. When he was asked for his recommendation for Lebanon’s next fire commissioner, then-mayoral candidate and current Lebanon mayor Sherry Capello ignored it and tabbed Trautman for the post.
That was ten years and hundreds of fires ago.
“I never wanted to be fire commissioner,” said Trautman, a former ladder truck driver in the city. “I believed the department should be proceeding in a different direction. I had met Sherry and when she asked me for my letter of recommendation for who should be the next fire commissioner, it wasn’t me. When she asked me, I was shocked. I didn’t think she was serious. But after I thought about it, I gave her an answer in the affirmative.
“I never expected to be in this position,” Trautman added. “I joked that I never wanted to be a paid firefighter. But things happen, and you do the best you can with it. It worked out alright. I knew if I didn’t do it, I’d regret it the rest of my life. I’ll always be grateful to the Mayor for that. We’ve gotten a lot done since, and I think we’re on the right track.”
But putting out fires is only part of what Trautman does as Lebanon’s fire commissioner. There are, of course, your less publicized emergencies like hazardous material spills, vehicular accidents and various types of rescues.
But the Lebanon Bureau of Fire also takes a leading role in the city’s fire prevention training programs, fire prevention inspections and suppression, fire drills at local schools, and involvement at community and business functions. In his role, Trautman also oversees the city’s nine volunteer fire companies.
He is one of 22 paid firefighters on the city of Lebanon’s payroll. Trautman works 55-65 hours a week, and he estimated that about 55 percent of his life is spent on duty, or available to respond.
“It’s an existence, not a job,” said Trautman. “You can’t go anywhere. You’ve got to always be ready. But I love being out in the community. No matter where I go, there’s people who we serve, everywhere. The community is just so kind here.
“There’s a lot that goes into what a fire company does,” continued Trautman. “You’ve got to look beyond the bright lights and red lights. Most of it is behind the scenes. There’s a good amount of paper work involved. All nine of the fire companies in the city are corporations. They can operate as they want, or not. The city oversees them through my position.”
Six months ago, Trautman moved into his current residence, the old Lebanon Hook and Ladder fire company building, on South Eighth Street downtown. For more than a century—from 1882 to 1985—the building had served as the Hook and Ladder’s headquarters and firehouse.
While most of the building had been refurbished by local businessman Bill Kolovani in the early 2000s, Trautman has added his own personal finishing touches, including a historically accurate fire pole, framed photos depicting Lebanon’s firefighting history, and other firefighting apparatus that creates a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. The home features a first-floor heated garage that houses Trautman’s work and personal vehicles, an open concept living area on the second floor, hardwood floors, exposed brick and beams, and plenty of natural light.
“I heard it was for sale,” said Trautman, a 1985 graduate of Elco High School. “When I came up these stairs, it was with the intent of buying it. I had this vision of living here. It’s almost like history was dripping out of the walls. It was pretty much ‘Where do I sign?’. I love it. I love being downtown.
“It fits with my position in life, and being in Lebanon,” added Trautman. “This building envelopes my whole life. To be in here and be part of the continuation of the history of this building, I’m just happy as a lark. Old firehouses are few and far between. This had never been used as a home before, and I’ve turned it back into what it was originally built for. The purpose is somewhat modified, but it suits me.”
Trautman’s on-going restoration of a 1951 Sea Grove E66 Firetruck is another way for him to stay true to himself and connected to the past.
He bought the classic fire engine 24 years ago for $600 from the Neversink Fire Company. Currently, Trautman has about $50,000 in the project, but expects to put another $19,000 into it, before it can be road ready in another four years.
“I’m a huge history buff,” said Trautman. “Working is what I do. I love the history of Lebanon and I love the history of firefighting in Lebanon. I always had an affinity for fire history. I grew up next to the Goodwill Fire Company in Myerstown.
“Life has been good, and then this place came along,” concluded Trautman. “It’s a lot more compatible with my life and interests. I’m a very fortunate person.”
A heart for service is a grateful heart.
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