CONTEST: Arthur Gates

Arthur Gates
(Provided photo)

(Editor’s note: Winners of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and Lake Placid News Biography Writing Contest were recently chosen. Here is the third-place entry for high school. The contest was open to students in the Olympic Region.)

LAKE PLACID — Running to help his teammates, previous volunteer firefighter Arthur Gates has a history with the Wilmington Fire Department.

At the start of 1977, Gates had been a newly volunteer firefighter located in his hometown of Wilmington, NY. Throughout his 20 years in the department, he maintained a full-time job at Madden’s Transfer and Storage company located in Saranac Lake. His job as a tractor-trailer driver had him away at times for up to two or more weeks, helping families move furniture and appliances into their newly found homes. Late-night calls had kept him up at night, gearing up and running out into the field to help the other volunteers and extinguish fires.

Having to suddenly leave and cut out from his family, which consisted of his wife, Debra Gates, and two children Kerry White and Jennifer Gates was part of his life as a firefighter. Training on weekends had also taken a toll on family time. Even though he had to leave suddenly at times, it didn’t break the special bond and traditions their family had. Gates still made time to go out with his family and cut down their Christmas tree every year, and go on summer trips to amusement parks. Arthur adored riding on giant roller coasters with his two daughters in tow. He claims, “I love the adrenaline that rushes through you during a roller coaster. I think that’s where I got my excitement for firefighting from.”

Arthur’s wife, Debra, was head of the auxiliary. She set up get-togethers and parties for the department, which Arthur claimed, “was one of the best parts of volunteering.” Debra and the auxiliary girls all contributed in putting together haunted houses, prizes for best Halloween costumes, bobbing for apples, children meeting Santa, and giving gifts. Everyone a part of the auxiliary crew helped bake cookies and treats for the kids around Christmas time. Debra was truly a great part of the auxiliary and everyone’s lives. During the get-togethers, and in general, everyone in the department had always gotten along, and Gates was friends with many people throughout his service.

Throughout his life Arthur had always wanted to experience being a firefighter. Arthur’s motivation towards his success as a firefighter was thinking about what makes a great firefighter, “To have a flexible schedule and availability, don’t be afraid to run into a burning building or help out.” Having this in the back of his mind kept him going even if he was scared or at his lowest.

The biggest challenge Gates faced was being the pump operator. It was hard to learn and control, but with the hard work he had put in during training, he had become a great asset to the department.

Some of the bigger fires in his career were the Mirror Lake Inn, and some Jay and Wilmington fires. Although standing in the burning flames, he wasn’t scared. He had helped extinguish the flames with the pump and aided people who had been hurt.

During one of their calls, Arthur and the other volunteers had gone out to save a woman from her car which was lit up in flames. As the other men ran in the car to help, Arthur and a few others stayed back, firing water from the pump towards the car to put out the flames and let the other men be able to safely enter and exit the car, carrying the woman in tow.

While faced with flames burning higher than the buildings itself, and calls from people who were terrified of those same flames, Arthur had never been truly scared while up against them. Thankfully, he has never been hurt even while attempting risky stunts.

Turning to a heartfelt story, which was annoying for Arthur and his family at the time, he had to bring out the firefighter in him to save their own cat, Bob, from a tree. Thinking back on it, Arthur claims, “I never knew I would have to do something as cliche as saving a cat from a tree.”

Contributing to the community, Arthur took part in marching down the Jay and Wilmington streets for the Fourth of July parades. He and his peers were dressed in their firefighter suits giving smiles and waves to children, and all people around. Arthur had always felt a sense of pride when partaking in those parades. He knew the little kids looked up to him as a hero.

While getting prepared to go out hunting in the fall of 2022, unfortunately, Arthur suffered a stroke. After his friend Jean had found him unresponsive, he called the Wilmington Fire and Rescue. The medics came, as well as a few of Arthur’s old friends he used to work with in that department. They transported him to Saranac Lake Hospital where they said, “This is one of our own.”

Today Arthur is residing in the local nursing home, Elderwood. Arthur still loves sharing stories with the nurses, and family that visits him regularly. After a few sessions of physical therapy he is able to walk and has little, but some movement in his right arm. His speech and memory still reside in 1977 when he first started volunteering.

(Ava White just finished 10th grade at Lake Placid High School. Her English teacher was Brenden Gotham.)


This year’s Biography Writing Contest sponsors are Curtis Lumber, Duff’s Dumpsters, Down and Dirty Excavating Services LLC, Eye Peek, Hyde Fuel, Phinney Design Group, The Bookstore Plus and Tri-Lakes Federal Credit Union.

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