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Playground piece honours Elmira firefighter’s memory

Patrick Kelly, a volunteer firefighter and member of the Kate’s Kause group, helped bring to fruition the little red fire truck at the Bolender Park playground. Kelly was friend of the late Shawn Martin. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]

If you’re a young family and are in the Elmira area, you’ve almost certainly considered taking a trip to Bolender Park by now. The splash pad itself, which had its official opening this summer, seems to have become wildly popular amongst the town’s littlest residents, while the adjoining playground, too, is positively teeming.

A fun place to enjoy with the whole family, the Bolender playground has also become a subtle tribute to the memory of Elmira volunteer fire fighter Shawn Martin, who passed away in 2016 after a bout of cancer.

“We wanted a way to remember him and honour his legacy,” explained fellow firefighter and Kate’s Kause member Patrick Kelly of his friend Martin. “So we raised some money at the fire department to give to the family, and the family decided they would take that money and put it towards this playground for kids to enjoy.”

The result of that largesse was a specially included piece to the Bolender playground – the little red fire truck – which was added through the Martin family’s donation, as well as the fundraising efforts of the Kate’s Kause not-for-profit group.

“We worked with the contractor that built the playground and said we wanted to get a piece that fit the fire department, kind of fire truck theme. Went through a couple samples of product and we ended up finding that one, which I think is just perfect. The kids love it,” said Kelly.

Few people would realize the significance of the little red fire truck just by looking at it, however. The truck bears no names or direct messages on it anywhere to highlight its connection to the late Martin. Rather, the only clues are the simple words “Fire Dept.” stenciled on the side of the truck, and the number “115”, written on the front.

The number, explains Kelly, was Martin’s when he was with the fire department – and serves as a modest hint of the truck’s origins.

“The idea was we wanted to create a structure that represents Shawn, but had a nice subtle element for him,” added Kelly Meissner of Kate’s Kause.

“We wanted to make sure that, because he was not only a volunteer firefighter, but he actually worked for the Township of Woolwich too, we wanted to give him something a little bit more representative of the larger-than-life influence that he’s had on our community.”

Besides helping with the fire truck piece alongside the Martin family, Kate’s Kause also contributed towards implementing the playground’s unique, almost spongy, rubberized flooring, which besides protecting kids that fall down at the playground, also allows those in wheelchairs and parents with strollers easier access to all the equipment.

The rest of the playground was funded through the township through a major grant, while the splash pad was created through the Woolwich Recreation Facilities Foundation.

It’s the collection of goodwill contributions of all these people that has turned Bolender Park into such success, and the fire truck is just one more part of that.

“It’s something that the kids enjoy, and Shawn had three children himself,” said Kelly. “So the day we unveiled the fire truck and did the ribbon cutting grand opening, the kids were here and his wife Clare was here, and it was pretty cool I think for them to see and the kids get to play on this thing. That’s a memory of him, which was pretty special.”

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