By Stephen P. Austin Delivered at his Funeral; October 6, 2017
Unless you are very, very old you don’t know a fire service without Louis J. Amabili. I certainly don’t. You see, Lou joined the Hockessin Fire Company the year I was born.
If you are a member, or on the career staff at Hockessin, until just recently you didn’t experience a day on duty when you didn’t see Lou coming to the firehouse, checking his work on the fund drive, or his duties as a Director, and then sitting down with you to chat to see how things were going.
If you ever served as a Delaware State Fire Prevention Commissioner you saw Lou at every meeting.
If you were the President of the DVFA, the New Castle County Chiefs or Firefighters Association you never convened a meeting without Lou in the audience.
If you ever attended any CFSI dinners you always saw Lou take the stage playing an important role.
If you ever went to training or attended a fire service meeting you did so in the house that Lou built, the Delaware State Fire School. Governor Carper officially named it in honor of Lou, but long before, the men and women who taught there and their students realized that if it were not for Lou, the school in its present form wouldn’t have existed.
If you were a member of Congress, a United States senator, a governor, or a legislator, or even a vice-president, before making a decision that impacted the fire service you would ask your staff the question; Have you checked with Lou?
If you were a United States Fire Administrator you kept a copy of America Burning at your desk and if you needed clarity or explanation, the standard response was, let’s check with Lou.
In the days before the National Volunteer Fire Council when no organization or individual represented the interest of the volunteer fire service nationally, there was Louis J. Amabili. If an issue about the volunteers arose, the stock comment was; Better check with Lou.
Because of his recognized knowledge, Lou was appointed to the Fire Prevention and Control Commission by President Nixon to represent the nation’s volunteer fire service. Lou made sure, as an author of America Burning, the landmark document about fire protection in this country, that volunteers were given their due recognition.
Delaware’s Senator Cale Boggs lobbied the President to get Lou that position, and Lou was fond of telling the story of when the call came from the White House at home one evening, Carm, Lou’s loving wife and soulmate, almost hung up the phone thinking it was a crank call.
Lou often said that Carm was his sounding board, and if you knew Carm, she was a lady that did not have reservations about providing her opinion. Lou always credited that frankness with keeping him well grounded and focused. They were a wonderful couple who raised a wonderful family of which they were extremely proud.
Lou would teach us that when asked a question by an elected official one should always answer the question directly without equivocation and most importantly always tell the truth.
Lou also spoke how he strived to never be ashamed to wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and see his reflection after a tough decision. The ability to look himself in the face was very important to Lou. His moral compass was remarkable. It didn’t waiver as Chairman of the Joint Council of National Fire Service Organizations, the Director of the Delaware State Fire School, as an officer of the Hockessin Fire Company or in any other positions of authority he held here at home or across the country.
There have been many great men whose contributions have influenced the course of fire protection in this nation. I know of none who have made a greater impact in more areas than Louis J. Amabili.
I have been personally wrestling with how my fire service life will change without the ability to check with Lou; something that I have regularly done since he first took me to Washington over 30 years ago. President Danny Carrier of Hockessin and Executive Secretary Bill Webb at the Congressional Fire Service Institute have both voiced they are facing the same dilemma. I suspect there are scores of others who relied on Lou’s sage advice left in this void.
The only solace that I can fathom is that all of us in the fire service who lived during the life and times of Louis J. Amabili should strive to conduct ourselves by the principals he lived by, the love of family, duty to his fire company, willingness to serve his state and nation, and the dedication to his community he exemplified by being a volunteer fireman.
– DFSN photos by Tom Mitten and provided by Warren Jones