MFC’s ‘unicorn’ training for one-of-a-kind fire department

If ever there was a story that got this editor revved up, it has to be the front-page article about the training exercises that just wrapped up after taking place at Millerton resident and inveterate volunteer Jennifer Dowley’s home during the past month-and-a-half or so.

The reason being, simply, is that enthusiasm is contagious.

So in speaking with the new volunteer firefighters who have recently signed on to join the North East Fire District (NEFD), whether they’re training to become interior firefighters with the Millerton Fire Company (meaning they actually run into burning buildings to fight the flames, do search and rescues, etc.) or to become exterior firefighters with the MFC (meaning they fight fires from outside of structures, help pump vital water onto fires or manage fire scenes, etc.) it made no difference.

All of those interviewed were equally thrilled to have joined the NEFD and to have been so deeply embraced by the fire commissioners, the veteran firefighters (one of whom has more than 70 years of active service), newer firefighters in the district, the Emergency Medical Service (EMS), those who work in the firehouse or administration — everyone has made the new recruits feel welcome, they said.

“The overall experience has been, well it’s not that I didn’t expect a welcoming feeling, but they’ve been overwhelmingly accommodating and welcoming, and it starts from the top down,” said MFC interior firefighter-in-training Chris Reyes. “I know it sounds cheesy, but from the commissioners to the chief to the officers, it sets the tone throughout. It’s a company of respect and integrity; it builds camaraderie itself.”

Which is why that favored front-page article led to this editorial. For one, we are genuinely hoping more residents, not just in the village of Millerton and town of North East, but in all of our Harlem Valley communities, will seriously consider contacting their local fire departments and find out about how to become a volunteer.

As we learned, there are many ways to volunteer besides donning a helmet. Fire companies can use all skill sets: from fighting fires to driving firetrucks to directing traffic to helping with paperwork to doing accounting to helping clean the firehouses to helping clean the firetrucks. There is no task too small for which you can’t offer your assistance.

As Dowley has proven, there are also ways to think outside of the box to help your fire department. If you’re about to renovate or tear down your home, rather than pay to have it demolished, why not let your local fire company use it to train? It’s incredibly helpful for firefighters to drill in a real-world environment, but it’s so rarely done that NEFD Fire Commissioner Josh Schultz couldn’t even remember the last time such a donation was made to the district.

He said the NEFD is “eternally grateful” to Dowley and for such a valuable training opportunity, adding “they are a very rare unicorn indeed.”

Those who don’t have a home to sacrifice at their fire department’s altar may assist in more traditional ways. All one has to do is call up their firehouse and ask for details. The number to call in Millerton is 518-789-4645, or just stop by the firehouse at 24 Century Blvd. any Monday night between 6 and 8 p.m. That’s when the MFC meets and does various chores and tasks, often doing something “fun and unique,” said Schultz, adding, “You never quite know what you’re walking into but you’ll always find a friendly face.”

Reyes also offered to chat with anyone who has questions about what it’s like to be a new recruit, how much time it takes to volunteer and what’s involved in training to become a firefighter — no pressure.

A friendly fellow if ever there was one (although every single firefighter interviewed for this week’s article went above and beyond to be frank, forthright and friendly), Reyes even offered to take anyone who would like to check out the firehouse on a tour. His number is 516-241-3882; feel free to call or text to get in touch with him.

One thing that’s certain, the MFC is like a family — a very supportive family. It would have to be, because these men and women -- this family, as we found out, is now made up of all ages, of all backgrounds, of all socio-economic groups and of all political beliefs.

The MFC members clearly trust and respect one another. They need to, because they need to know when their lives are on the line their fellow firefighters have their back. There is no question in Millerton, as we imagine at fire companies all around the region, everyone’s back is fully covered.

Be sure to read this week’s front page article on the MFC.

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