Written by Carol Frank Saturday, 21 September 2013 00:00
“Other than marrying the woman I married and having my kids, volunteering at the Alert Fire Department is the best decision I ever made,” says Mike Green, a 37-year veteran of the department. As a trustee and safety officer for the company, he is the point person in utilizing the regional grant money to keep the Alerts at full operating power.
Chief Laurence Jacobs of the Vigilants commented: “Training for our firefighters and EMTs is on a very professional level … We believe that the experiences and the training can really help young people in making career decisions. They learn a lot about management, organization and decision making ... things that can apply to various endeavors...and how to stay calm and focused in emergencies.”
“We reach out to young people at career days in their schools,” said Chief Michael Farrone of the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department. “It’s a great thing to watch them become adults in our fire department. Where else can you get this kind of responsibility and guidance?”
Farrone is especially proud that his daughter, Carly, followed in his footsteps and became a firefighter. There is a grand tradition of firefighting families, but this trend appears to be a bit on the wane, especially now during hard economic times.
All three fire department leaders agree that the regional grant is a big boost to their efforts. Not only did it provide funds for creating an informative brochure about the requirements and tangible benefits of volunteering, but it also pays for firefighters and EMTs from various departments to set up recruitment booths at various community events, such as street fairs. Potential volunteers are given extensive information and then can apply to the fire department in their local communities if they choose to go further.
“We all back each other up,” said Green, “so, it comes naturally to work together to recruit and keep members.”
Historically, volunteerism has fluctuated with the times and economic conditions. According to Jacobs, in the 80s fire departments had waiting lists of people wanting to join. A little known fact among “civilians” (what those of us not in emergency services are called) is that in each fire company’s charter there is a maximum number of volunteers allowed. This was done years ago to insure an equal distribution of volunteers in the communities served.
In the old days, many volunteers in the fire departments worked in their communities and were available for calls during the day. As more of the population commuted to NYC or further out on the Island for work, stresses were felt in fire departments and the numbers of volunteers went down in the 90s.
Jacobs said: “It’s real hard to work a long week and commute and then run to calls ... We’re a real busy outfit. Just last night we got 3 calls and we’re up to 2300 calls a year.” While many fire departments require residency in order to volunteer, the Vigilants do not. There are a few members who live elsewhere and who spend a few nights a week at the firehouse.
Jacobs added that having midshipmen from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy volunteer for ambulance service has been a huge help to the department.
Fire departments also make special efforts to encourage volunteers to come from a wide range of backgrounds that reflect the community composition. It makes a difference when there are fire fighters and EMTs who speak various languages and can communicate with people who are frightened and in need.
The Alerts are among a few fire departments that have a Junior division. Teens from the age of 12 to 17 can, with parental permission, join the Juniors and begin to receive valuable training. Many of them go on to join the department or they may volunteer where they go to college. Green said: “We are very proud of these teens; it’s a fun program, but it takes time and commitment just like our regular members.”
After widespread emergencies such as 9-11 and Hurricane Sandy, citizens often, feeling like by-standers, begin to get interested ...”How can I help? How can I make a difference?”
The intensive and specialized training, coupled with experience and supervision from seasoned firefighters and EMTs gives volunteers the ability to make a difference in the communities that they love.
Farrone made it clear that it takes family support to be a part of the department. “If you don’t have your family behind you, well, it’s real hard. You will rush out at times, you will miss family events ... but if they understand and believe in what you’re doing, you are all joining a larger family. There’s nothing like it.”
Fire departments sponsor BBQs and other low-key family events to make the families feel welcome and an important part of the workings of the departments. While each department is unique, they share something that is hard to quantify.
All the leaders agreed that it is hard to describe the sense of camaraderie, the sense of belonging and the heightened sense of accomplishment ... when a fire is quenched, when someone is rescued from a crushed car, when you know that you have the skill and experience to step up and do what needs to be done.