When Jessica Rose first volunteered for the Woodstock Fire Department, she took what’s called an “exterior” role, helping at accident scenes and setting up road closures. “As much as that seems insignificant,” she said, “it’s really important. Every single person offers something unique to this department.” Some volunteers help with fundraising or become fire police, guiding traffic around incidents. Rose, however, ended up becoming an interior firefighter.
For anyone who’s looking for a satisfying way to serve their community, while enjoying teamwork and camaraderie, the Woodstock Fire Department is holding an informational open house on Saturday, April 27 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Woodstock Fire Company One, 242 Tinker Street. Along with other volunteer fire companies, Woodstock is participating in the statewide RecruitNY 2019 initiative. Visitors will tour the firehouse, watch equipment demonstrations, and get to meet Chief Kevin Peters, Assistant Chief Tom Rivera, Assistant Chief Patrick Rose, and a host of Woodstock’s emergency first responders of all ages, experience, and skills.
“Our numbers are dwindling,” said John Rushkoski, an EMT with the rescue squad, which is Company Five within Woodstock’s fire department. “People are busy trying to make ends meet. And 60 percent of Woodstock residents are weekenders, who don’t normally volunteer.” Rescue squad volunteers can help out by cooking meals for EMTs on night shift, by working on building maintenance, or by driving an ambulance, after a short training course, provided by the department. Some volunteers go on to become certified EMTs and may even become paid first responders in other towns. Woodstock’s rescue squad and fire department are entirely volunteer, except for four full-time paid paramedics, who do 12-hour shifts at the squad headquarters on Route 212 in the Bearsville Flats.
“It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life,” Rushkoski said. “People are hesitant because they think all they’re going to see is blood. We don’t see that much blood.” Without a highway in their jurisdiction, the Woodstock squad doesn’t have to deal with high-speed crashes. Many of their calls are to assist the elderly. “I find it interesting that elderly people don’t like to call in the middle of night,” said Rushkoski. “They’ll fall at 2 or 3 a.m., and even if they have a medical alert button, they’ll lie there all night and won’t push it till morning. We tell them we’re available 24 hours a day, but they say they didn’t want to get anyone up in the night.”
Rushkoski joined the emergency service 33 years ago when he was an employee at Rotron. The manufacturer’s facility on Route 375 maintains a squad that’s available during working hours. An ambulance spends the day at Rotron, and volunteers are allowed to leave work to respond to emergency calls. For weekends and evening hours, other volunteers sign up for shifts. If they live in a far-flung part of town, they sometimes sleep at the rescue squad building to provide quick response. Rushkoski, now semi-retired, has a paid job as an EMT with Olive First Aid in addition to volunteering for Woodstock.
Not just men
“People get the image from the media that all firefighters are strong white men in their mid-30s,” said Jessica Rose. “But that’s not true any more. Company One has so many women and men of all different ages, working side by side. My mother-in-law has been on the fire department for over 30 years, and she still goes to fires and pumps out flooded cellars.”
Lieutenant Karen Pignataro joined the department two years ago at a friend’s suggestion. “I said, ‘I’m a 54-year-old woman. What am I going to do?’ But you start out as a probationary member, and if you want, you take a certain amount of classes. Now I’m an interior firefighter.” One advantage of joining the department is the chance to spend time with people she wouldn’t ordinarily meet. “I hang out with 20-year-old guys!” she laughs. “There’s a wide range of people here, and sometimes we have our differences. But when you’ve gone through a fire together, your relationship changes.”
Those relationships extend beyond Woodstock. When Pignataro and Rose went to a course at the fire academy in Montour Falls, they were the only females in a class of 13 firefighters. “It was a training about truck operations,” said Rose. “We were nervous they would hate us, or see us as slow lunch ladies, but they were great. We meshed so well. Everyone was supportive, because we were all there to learn and get better.”
At this point in the interview, Rose’s husband, Assistant Captain Patrick Rose, walks into the firehouse with eight-month-old Hudson in a baby carrier. Hudson spends the next ten minutes clinging first to his mother and then to Pignataro. Jessica, in addition to taking care of her baby, works full-time as assistant director of a youth advocate program in Kingston, but she still finds time for the department. Pignataro, manager of the Woodstock Inn, has permission from the owner to run off on calls in the middle of work.
“I leave happy at the end of the day,” Jessica said, “knowing I volunteered to help people.”
The Woodstock Fire Department will hold an open house on Saturday, April 27 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Woodstock Fire Company One, 242 Tinker Street. Admission is free, with refreshments donated by area restaurants.