Fighting Fire with Fire!
By Eugenia Moskowitz
Members of the Washingtonville Fire Department were at Washingtonville High School on Jan. 14 during the school day and again on the evening of Jan. 15 as part of an effort to encourage young people to join the department and get involved in the benefits joining a fire service brings.
Does your child 16 or older have the “fire” in him or her to be a volunteer firefighter? The Monell Engine Company’s Chief Gary Hearn said, “Joining teaches a young person responsibility, discipline, and respect. That’s first and foremost. Kids who are looking to go into many different fields get some of their first training with their local volunteer fire department. Many then go into the military, a paid fire department, the police department, any of the emergency response fields, nursing, or the medical or EMS fields. We have kids who are in BOCES and kids who are interested in four-year college. Both paths are valid depending on what field the student is interested in and how he or she wants to most efficiently get there.”
Students and their parents may wonder what the fire service can do for a young person who may not know where exactly they’re headed. “It’s good solid life experience,” Hearn said. “It teaches you how to deal with people in crisis, whether that’s a fire, a flood, a car accident, or any of the other less life-threatening calls we routinely go on. In 2018 we had 370 calls. Aside from the physical event, we also handle the human psychology part, which is very important. Young people will benefit from knowing how to interact with people in real time and in real, sometimes harrowing, sometimes humorous situations. We’re at all community events, and we deal with the community extensively, both in good and bad times. Organizational skills are used in the daily running of the department and in planning for events, as is quick thinking in sudden situations.”
Applications were handed out to interested students as members of the department spoke of what they do, and what being part of the fire service means, including the mentoring which older experienced firefighters give to newer members. “There’s a very real part of the fire service that’s about brotherhood and sisterhood,” Hearn said. “The camaraderie of a good group of people who become lifelong friends. When you do fire stuff, you learn to count on them as they count on you. When you go into a fire with somebody, you need to depend on them and you need to cooperate so that they can depend on you. There’s nothing like that kind of bonding. Nothing.”
The department also offers solid training that forms a foundation for future careers. “We offer NY State certification courses in basic exterior, followed by interior, firefighting operations, in addition to numerous other classes such as hazardous materials (or haz-mat), confined space rescue, vehicle extrication, trench rescue, and water rescue, among other emergency response topics. I started when I was 16, and my whole career in the NYPD highway patrol, they put me in haz-mat because of my fire background. I also knew about working closely with a partner in dangerous situations involving apprehending violent criminals because of the cooperation skills I learned fighting fires with my colleagues. I was able to go into the Office of Emergency Management, and my current Amtrak job is based on my firefighter background. In other words, what I got from joining and being part of a fire department went way beyond just firefighting skills and a bunch of friends. These are life skills and would serve anybody well as they finish up high school and prepare to go out into the world, whether it be technical training, any type of college education, or the working world.”
Washingtonville native Michael Saltz, an RN who also holds a master’s MSN, started when he was 16. “I became an EMT through fire department training,” he said. “Then I went on to become a paramedic, and then continued on to nursing where I kept going until I got my master’s.” Saltz, who works at Westchester Medical Center, credits the Washingtonville Fire Department with getting him started. His brothers are all in the department as well. And Saltz is married and raising his three small children here in Washingtonville. “The friendships I’ve been a part of in this department are a huge part of my life,” he said. “It’s not just a department. It’s a community. It’s home.”
The fire service offers free training and equipment, tax breaks, free health checkups, insurance coverage, scholarships, and college tuition reimbursement. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or click on “recruitment” at http://www.washingtonvillefd.com or http://www.fireinyou.org.
CAPTION: Members of the Washingtonville Fire Department were on hand at Washingtonville High School this past week to tell students what community fire services are all about, what they offer, and the many ways in which both individuals and the town benefit when young people join a local fire department. Pictured here are (l. to r.): Mike Butkus, Joe Courter, Michael Saltz, Joe Federici, Chief Gary Hearn, Jonathan Saltz, Washingtonville Mayor (and high school teacher) Joe Bucco, and Washingtonville Police Department SRO Charlie Martin. (Photo by Eugenia Moskowitz)