Peter M. Becker

Peter M. Becker

Peter M. Becker

BERNE — Peter Marvin Becker was a figure who loomed large on the Hill, not just for his prominent positions, but for his powerfully joyous personality.

The Hilltowns and the first-responder community have been rocked by his sudden death on the job last Wednesday, Oct. 21. A Berne highway worker, Mr. Becker was working under a municipal dump truck, propped up by a jack stand, that came down on him.

“Peter was truly everyone’s friend,” Berne Fire District Commissioner Mary Alice Molgard told The Enterprise the day Becker died. “He always was glad to see you. You got a hug and a smile, no matter what was going on. If you look at Facebook, at my account or anyone in the fire companies, you’re going to see literally hundreds upon hundreds of messages that talk about him as a friend. 

“He was a real mentor to our younger firefighters especially,” Ms. Molgard continued. “One of our young guys today told the story of when he joined, Peter knew right away the kid was a little nervous, and didn't really know anyone. Peter said ‘You'll be OK, kid,’ and proceeded to take him under his wing, made him feel welcome, and made him feel like he had found a home. The young man is now a lieutenant.”

Berne Supervisor Sean Lyons told The Enterprise that he had known Mr. Becker, 52, since preschool, and he likened Mr. Becker’s death to that of a brother’s. “In fact, I knew him longer than my real brother,” Lyons said. “We were very close.”

“Pete was our community,” Mr. Lyons also said, “and it will be devastating … Pete is best known for his hugs and his smile.”

“Pete was more than a worker,” wrote Highway Superintendent Randy Bashwinger on Facebook. “He was a friend, and a brother to us. He always had a smile and always hugged people. This was a guy that would give the shirt off his back. 

“Pete and [his wife] Robin were always supporters of the highway,” Mr. Bashwinger went on. “Robin would make food all the time. This is a guy that would come in at 3 or 4 a.m. after just fighting a fire all night the day before. I can’t express how much we hurt from his loss. Pete, we love you brother.”

Mr. Becker was born on April 5, 1968, in Albany, the only child of Marvin and Nancy (née Yarmchuk) Becker, his family wrote in a tribute; he graduated from Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School in 1986, and later from the Technical Career Institute, in Windsor, Connecticut.

“At the young age of 16, he joined the Berne Volunteer Fire Company. In the earlier days, he drove the ambulance. He was, as they say, ‘always there,’” his family wrote. “When a call went out, he was there, even on his wedding day.”

It was in 1987, a year after graduating from high school, that Mr. Becker formally joined the Berne Volunteer Fire Company at the age of 19, Ms. Molgard said, representing the third generation of his family at the firehouse, having followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Mr. Becker’s two daughters, Lacey and Eden, are also members of the fire district, Ms. Molgard said.

Mr. Becker’s tenure as a firefighter was lifelong and filled with esteem, as he served in every position available, Ms. Molgard said, listing among them company officer, company chief, company secretary, and, the highest of all, district chief. Mr. Becker served a total of eight years as district chief, managing all operations and personnel, Ms. Molgard said.

“Peter was a great firefighter,” Ms. Molgard said. “He could manage a scene as incident commander, moving fire crews and apparatus around and get the job done. He had a real knack  for water operations. That’s managing tanker shuttles and finding water sources. Up here on the Hill there are no hydrants, so this was a critical skill. Having been born and raised here, he knew where all the ponds were!”

Mr. Becker’s final role with the district was as commissioner, having been appointed to fill a vacancy the night before he died. 

“We laughed and joked with him like normal,” Ms. Molgard wrote, in a letter to The Enterprise editor, of the fire district’s final meeting with Mr. Becker. “That’s part of who he was.”

Ms. Molgard described the next morning’s accident to The Enterprise as a “cruel irony.”

In her letter, Ms. Molgard wrote, “Those first to the accident scene were part of that fire family: the emergency medical technician who had known Peter since birth, the district chief who had just taken over as D.C. from Peter in January, the fire captain at whose wedding Peter had been best man. All did their absolute best; they made the right calls, and got help as fast as possible, all the while knowing that their efforts weren’t going to change the outcome.”

The day after Mr. Becker’s death, the town of Berne sponsored a grief counseling session, open to all affected. 

“We got together as a family,” Ms. Molgard wrote of the session, “we told silly stories about Peter and his antics, his dislike for speed limits, his uncanny ability to find water for tanker operations, and we talked about the hero side of Peter, too.”

Four days after the counseling session, on Oct. 26, Mr. Becker’s funeral was held at the Fredendall Funeral Home, in Altamont, followed by a service at the Berne firehouse. Known as “Last Call,” the traditional firefighter’s sendoff honored Mr. Becker’s commitment to the fire district with a final dispatch.

“Now the ceremonies and rituals are over,” Ms. Molgard wrote in her letter. “We have to figure out how to deal with what the loss of Peter Becker means to us …. 

“So we go on,” Ms. Molgard went on, “without the heart of our fire company. We go back to fighting fires, handling car accidents, and downed power lines. Not quite sure how we do it, but we’ll figure it out. We have to. Peter would expect no less. ‘You’ll be fine, kid.’”

****

Peter M. Becker is survived by his beloved wife, Robin (née Meszaros) Becker, whom he married on Dec. 2, 2017; his daughters, Lacey Becker and Dan Keller, and Eden Becker and Larry Gladd, and their mother, Carrie Amsler; by his brother- and sister-in-law Jeffrey and Karen Meszaros; by his nephews, Daniel and Andrew Meszaros; by numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins; and by his brothers and sisters of the Berne Fire District and surrounding fire companies.

A funeral service was held on Monday, Oct. 26, at 11 a.m. at the Fredendall Funeral Home, followed by Last Call at the Berne firehouse. Interment was at Woodlawn Cemetery.

“As Pete would say, ‘Thanks for coming,’” his family wrote.

Memorial contributions may be made to Berne Volunteer Fire Company, Post Office Box 187, Berne, NY 12023.

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