For Travis Fuhrman, serving as the last chief of Lewisberry Community Fire Co. was incredibly important -- both painful and, in the end, a source of pride.
Fuhrman, 30, of Lewisberry, grew up in and around the volunteer station as his father, Mark Fuhrman, climbed the ranks from firefighter all the way to fire chief.
"I was there on my father's coattails whenever possible," Travis said, and reveled in the brotherhood and camaraderie of the members.
At age 14, Travis became a junior firefighter with Lewisberry, one of the oldest continuously running fire companies in York County. It incorporated in 1840, he said. After a hiatus, Travis returned to the company four years ago as a full-fledged firefighter.
"This was an extension of my family," he said. "We put our lives on the line and trusted each other. The company taught me a lot of core values."
Company destroyed: But when the sirens wail, Lewisberry fire crews no longer answer the call.
Embezzlement by two former company officials destroyed the fire company, according to Newberry Township Police Chief John Snyder.
Former fire chief Markwood C. Albright II, 37, of 303 Harrisburg Pike in Dillsburg, and former company president Jennifer Lou Cassada, 37, of 308 N. Third St. in Rio Grande, N.J., remain free on bail, facing theft and related charges.
Snyder said police believe they can prove the pair stole at least $11,815 from the fire company.
"Their wrongdoings are what sent us into a tailspin," Travis said. "When it came to finances, it was always Mark and Jennifer -- there was no input (allowed) from the rest of the body. ... The treasurer wasn't even given authority to review the bank accounts."
Station sold: As bills piled up, Albright and Cassada sold the Lewisberry fire station to the borough, as a way to get extra money to pay debts, according to Travis. The borough agreed to lease the building back to the fire company, he said.
"That should've been the death knell right there, but we stayed on," he said.
In May 2010, Albright and Cassada stepped down, at which point Travis became fire chief and Dennis Beck became president, according to Travis.
"We came on board with the intention of turning things around, and we were making strides," he said. "We put in a lot of safeguards so this kind of embezzlement could not occur again. ... But unfortunately, we lost the confidence of the borough council."
In September, borough council revoked the company's building lease and turned to Fairview Township Fire Co. for service.
Finished: And merger talks between the Lewisberry and Fairview fire companies fell apart as well, Travis said.
By Nov. 1, Lewisberry Fire Co. was finished, its last chief said. Assets were liquidated, equipment was sold and the company's debt has been whittled down to less than $15,000, Travis said.
Some firefighters joined neighboring fire companies but other members, including Travis, retired from fire service.
Travis said it was painful watching Lewisberry Fire Co. fade away, but said he's grateful to have been at the helm in the end, to see things through. He's a third-generation firefighter; grandfather Richard Byerly was assistant fire chief in Lower Allen Township.
'Pride and honor': "The last year and a half that I was chief, my father watched me with great pride and knew whatever decisions I made were best for the department," Travis said. "We may have had a shoestring budget, but we did the job and did it well.
"We retired the company with pride and honor, instead of just walking away and washing our hands of it," he said. "The day I took the lights, siren and radios out of my vehicle was a solemn day."
And while he misses being a firefighter, Travis has different priorities now, he said -- his wife and 1-year-old daughter.
"Maybe when my daughter is grown up and goes off to college, I'll go back and do it again," Travis said.
-- Reach Elizabeth Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org, 505-5429 or twitter.com/ydcrimetime.