Tom Elvins III spent 66 years as a member of the Independent Volunteer Fire Company of Hammonton. In that time, he held every position in the firehouse except one — chief.
His fellow members kept nominating him, but they were always outvoted by one person — Tom’s wife, Dorothy, who warned him that if he ever did become chief, the first two things he’d need would be a divorce lawyer and a new address.
“I told him, ‘I can pack your clothes in a hurry,’” Dorothy said Friday. “There were many times I just wanted to ship his bed over there,” to the firehouse.
Tom and Dorothy had been married more than 63 years and were great-grandparents when Tom died July 27 from injuries he suffered in a car accident two weeks earlier in Egg Harbor Township. The Elvinses were back-seat passengers in the crash. Dorothy, who was also badly hurt, just got home from a rehabilitation hospital Friday.
But despite all the teasing they gave each other over the years, “We were two peas in a pod,” said Dorothy, 83, who met her future husband when she waited on him in the Dairy Lunch, a long-closed Hammonton restaurant. “He wouldn’t let me go anyplace alone.”
But no matter how close they were, Tom knew better than to challenge his wife when she was serious about something. And Dorothy really did not want Tom to be the fire chief — partly, she said, because she heard about another volunteer chief being sued by a firefighter’s family.
“And that redhead” — Dorothy — “meant business,” as Tom told a reporter for The Press of Atlantic City in 2009, for a story on how he was still active in the fire company then.
Almost three years later, he was still active, and still fighting fires — at 88. Fire Chief Domenick DiGiovannangelo emphasizes — with amazement — that Tom wasn’t just an old guy who liked to drop by the firehouse to swap stories and have some laughs.
“He was actually going out on the fires, puttting them out,” the chief said. “He put on every piece of gear we put on.”
He put on far different gear this year than he did back in 1946, when — freshly back home to Hammonton from the Navy and World War II — he joined the fire company.
There was a whole lot of history in the firehouse for him — he was the fourth generation in his family to be a member. In a tragic event for both the family and the fire company, Tom was just 3 years old when his father was driving a firetruck during an accident that killed Tom’s grandfather.
But that didn’t turn Tom Elvins III away from the Independent Volunteer Fire Company of Hammonton. His viewing earlier this month was at the firehouse. And his family asked that any contributions in his memory go to the fire company.
A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Contact Martin DeAngelis: