‘Critical need’ for fire volunteers

We all know how much we rely on the brave men and women who selflessly volunteer their time and their energy to serve on our local volunteer fire departments throughout the Harlem Valley. 

Can we stress that ever-so-important word one more time? Volunteer fire departments, as in they don’t get paid for the many hundreds, if not thousands, of hours they spend training, testing and then serving in our local firehouses to make sure those who live and work in our communities remain safe and protected when tragedy strikes. 

And as we all know all too well from the past 17 months, thanks to the hard lessons of the coronavirus pandemic — one glaring but sole example — tragedy can strike anyone, anytime, anywhere.

So, too, can any other number of emergencies, whether that includes a possible kitchen fire, electrical fire or full-out structure fire in a home or business; a fallen tree through a roof; a cat stuck in a tree; or worse, a child who fell in a well; or maybe it’s a brush fire in the nearby woods; a raging barn fire at one’s family farm; or a multi-vehicle accident with multiple injuries on that winding mountain road you take home on those icy winter nights.

Whatever the disaster, our local firefighters and Rescue Squad members who volunteer at our area fire departments  need to be properly thanked for their devoted service doing what has to be some of the toughest, most grueling and most dangerous work there is. And they are doing it at a serious handicap, as most of our firehouses are seriously understaffed.

Just last week, the Copake Fire Station sent out a call for volunteer firefighters, Fire Police Officers and Fire Explorer Scouts (ages 14 and up). The district will be offering an “interactive experience” on Saturday, July 24, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., for anyone interested in learning more about how to fill those positions.

As the Copake Fire Team announced, there is a “critical need” for volunteers for 2021 and beyond. Those who want to make a difference and help keep their community safe are encouraged to attend on July 24. There they can learn in a controlled environment how to operate a hose line, the Jaws of Life, rope rescue equipment and more.

“Learn what we do — you can do it too,” states the recruitment flyer, which also promises would-be volunteers they’ll hear about the benefits Copake firefighters receive.

Those with questions should email depchief@copakefire.org or call 518-329-4161, option 5.

It’s not just the Copake Fire District that needs support, in nearby Millerton, the North East Fire District is also in dire need of volunteers, according to Millerton Fire Chief Jason Watson, who just said on Sunday, July 18, that recruiting new members “is hard for everybody.”

That’s why the Millerton Fire Company is holding a formal grand opening at its still-new equipment annex on Century Boulevard, across from the firehouse at 24 Century Blvd. The event will be on Sunday, Sept. 12, at 11 a.m., and the public is welcome, even encouraged, to attend.

Watson is hopeful residents interested in possibly volunteering with the 50-member fire company will approach him and others about joining. 

It takes 14 firefighters to respond to a scene and begin to fight a blaze, so it’s absolutely critical the department has a large enough pool of volunteers to call on in an emergency. Neighboring community companies often supply back-up for one another, as it’s rare that one department can provide enough firefighters to put out a fully-engulfed fire.

That’s why Watson said the need for new recruits is so great, and that if would-be volunteers can’t stop by the annex on Sept. 12, there are other opportunities to do so.

Drop-ins are always welcome at the Millerton firehouse on Mondays at 6 p.m., at which point those interested in volunteering can speak to a current firefighter about the requirements to join and pick up an application. 

According to Watson, training is provided by the fire district; the state and county help the fire district cover all costs. The length and cost of training is dependent on whether the recruit wants to become an exterior firefighter, which requires less training, or an interior firefighter, which requires more training. 

To become a firefighter one must be at least 16 years of age.

Like Copake and Millerton, practically all other fire departments in the area are seeking new recruits as well. If you live in the Harlem Valley, are physically capable, have the time and energy to commit to training for and volunteering with your local fire department — and you’re interested in helping your community in a very real way — consider contacting your local firehouse. It’s one of the most heroic things you could ever do.

This editorial has been corrected to note that the grand opening for the equipment annex is Sunday, Sept. 12 and not Saturday, Sept. 11.

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