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A local volunteer firefighter has received the Richard M. Watson Memorial Leadership Award, which recognizes him for his dedication and service to the Upper Mountain Volunteer Fire Company.

Charles W. Kraft, who was born and raised in the Niagara Falls area, joined the Upper Mountain Fire Company in 1961. He served as vice president for a year, president for two years and then as fire chief for five years. Kraft, 71, is considered a life member of the company -- serving for 36 years.

"I feel young and I think basically it's because you keep active," he said.

The Niagara County Volunteer Firemen's Association gave Kraft the award at the Frontier Fire Hall in Wheatfield.

As the 19th person to receive the award over the years, Kraft said it made him feel "very proud, very humble."

He attributed his selection from nine applicants to his organizational skills.

"It's just the satisfaction of doing things for others and helping people . . . You get involved in it and you just keep going, that's all."

Watson, for whom the award is named, is remembered as the dean of fire service, who died in the late 1970s.

The award named for him recognizes leadership qualities exhibited by the winners, said Kraft.

Even at his age, Kraft said he still goes out on the company's ambulance calls every day, although he is not as active as he once was.

He will also operate pumps instead of going inside burning structures, as he did in his earlier days.

Kraft, who lives on Elliott Drive, completed 10 state fire courses, including the emergency medical technician course in 1974. Non-state courses he completed include the exterior fire ground support program and Mercy Flight ground crew, as well as others.

While he was fire chief in 1967, he was the first to begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation classes in the county with Dr. Joseph Cordaro, president of the Niagara County Heart Association. Their successful program was soon extended to other fire companies and their residents.

Kraft organized and chaired the committee to form the Upper Mountain Fire Co. Exempts in 1983. He served as the group's first president for six years and as vice president since 1991.

In addition, he has been a member of the county Firemen's Association since 1962, serving as president in 1972 and 73.

He has been a member of the county Chiefs Association since 1966, a life member of the Western New York Fireman's Association, and a charter member and first vice president of the Burn Treatment Association for five years. In 1972 and 1974 he organized and was general chairman of the county Medical Seminar on Critically Ill and injured, using medical doctors to instruct firefighters in the doctors' specialty.

Kraft was a committee member of the 1963 Firemen's Association of the State of New York Convention held in Niagara Falls and was president of the convention committee from 1968 to 1991. He presently serves as director of that group.

In addition, he was the general chairman of the FASNY conventions held in Niagara Falls in 1971 and 1975.

Currently, Kraft is chairman of Upper Mountain's membership committee, member of the Lewiston Fire Prevention Bureau, and a member of the Lewiston Hazardous Material Commission. He also is the chairman of the Escarpment Neighborhood Watch Committee and chairman of Upper Mountain's children's Halloween party.

He served with the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and is a graduate of Niagara University with a bachelor's and a master's degree. Kraft taught English for 28 years in the Niagara Falls School District.

He and his wife, Marilyn, have four children and one granddaughter.

Edward Tase Jr., president of the county Volunteer Fireman's Association, said, "Well, Charlie's got many years in the service" as the basis for his group's decision on the award.

"Through all his age he just hasn't given up."

Gary W. Townsend, the chairman of the town's Fire Prevention Bureau also spoke highly of Kraft's dedication. "He's been just a very active person as far as different organizations within the fire service," he said.