Local emergency service agencies joined forces Sunday at the Shawangunk Valley Firehouse to send a strong and urgent message that serious gaps in coverage may occur unless more volunteer personnel step up and join their ranks.
Members of the Gardiner Fire Company, Pine Bush Ambulance Corps, Pine Bush Fire Company, Shawangunk Valley Fire Company, Walker Valley Fire Company, Wallkill Ambulance Corps and the Wallkill Fire Company showcased emergency vehicles, hydrant flushing and a vast amount of protective gear and equipment for viewing, including miniature fire gear for the youngest visitors. Interactive rescue, medical and fire demonstrations took place, along with the ability to speak with current firefighters and ambulance corps members to learn about their experiences, training, challenges and qualifications.
According to Van Smith of the Shawangunk Valley Fire Department, each volunteer brings a wealth of unique and much-needed skills and abilities to the table. “Not everyone needs to be interior qualified; there’s a job for everyone,” Smith says. Some provide critical support at the scene, such as taking a bottle of water to a firefighter or comforting a frightened child on the scene. Firefighters train for a wide range of emergencies such as ice rescue, Jaws of Life, flooded basements and rope rescue in which their particular skills are applied.
Residents as young as 16 can join but perform in limited capacity until reaching age 18 when they can become full members. An influx of new young members brings enormous energy and strength to the more physically demanding roles and helps to insure that these services continue well into the future without interruption. Many members spoke of having generations of relatives who have served as firefighters or EMTs in nearby agencies, New York City or Long Island. One spoke of the satisfaction of “neighbors helping neighbors.”
A recent National Fire Protection Association report echoed the challenges faced by these agencies, citing a significant reduction in volunteer membership nationwide. The overriding message of this multi-agency event was that for the current level of emergency services to continue, the need for new members cannot be ignored. Residents are strongly encouraged to contact their town’s fire department or ambulance corps to learn not only what membership requires, but also what membership offers: an unparalleled opportunity to be part of a rescue that can change an entire family’s world.