Is there a fire in you? You can answer that urge to help your community by joining your local volunteer fire department.
As part of a statewide effort called Recruit NY, the Woodstock Fire Department will hold an open house April 23 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Company No. 1, 242 Tinker Street. Members will be on hand to answer questions and give tours of the firehouse. Like many services in town, the fire department is nearly all volunteer except for a mechanic, a secretary-treasurer, building manager, district clerk and a couple per-diem paramedics who fill in when needed.
Many of the members are older and the department is always looking for young recruits, like Andy Koo, who felt inspired by the volunteers that tried to save his father, who died when Andy was just 17.
“So that’s when that bug kind of bit me. But it took obviously a couple more years, a couple more bites that actually got me to sign up,” he said. “If I can have this opportunity to at least help save somebody, I’m going to take that chance,” Koo said.
Koo has finished interior firefighter training and plans on working to become an emergency medical technician, or EMT.
“Just being involved in this town for so long, you’ve got to do something to give back. So that’s why I felt like it was time to get in here and help the ones who are aging out,” said Koo, whose family operated Chinese restaurants in the area including First Wok and the Little Bear.
Koo is a certified personal trainer and also works part-time in a liquor store. His wife is a store manager for Spectrum in Newburgh.
When spending time with the fire department, Koo looks forward to drill nights as a way to constantly keep his skills current. “You don’t know what you’re going to do but you’re excited at the same time because maybe it’s something new that you’re interested in or just a new skill that you need to pick up. I just take in everything like a sponge. I soak it up,” he said.
The firefighters are not told ahead of time what the drill will entail, explained Don Todd, who joined in 1971. “I said we have a chimney fire. Bring the equipment. I don’t want the hoses and ladders. Bring all the equipment you think you need. Scavenger hunt,” Todd said, describing a recent drill. “And they came back and they got pretty much everything. They missed a few things and we went over everything…I don’t really want to tell them what I’m going to do because the surprise is what’s what kind of nonsense are we going to do this weekend.” Todd said repeating the same thing week after week and make people complacent and bored, so he tries to be innovative and creative to keep the members interested.
Koo said he initially had a lot of self-doubt and wondered if he was going to fit in with the crowd but those thoughts dissolved once he started doing the work. “Then I thought, ok, this is definitely doable and I can handle this,” Koo said.
Todd, 69, a fifth-generation Woodstocker, had been going to fire calls since he was a little kid, tagging along with his father. “If we went, we were actually expected to help…Roll hose, help wash the trucks. That kind of stuff.”
Todd was in Company One for 10 years, then moved to Company 4 in Zena. It’s his sixth stint as captain and he has also been a lieutenant. He is in charge of rope and ice rescue.
“I’ve never asked anybody to do something I haven’t done. So I’ve done EMS, car accidents, fires, trees on wires, you name it,” he said.
For 38 years, Todd was on the day crew in Zena while running an auto repair shop.
“A lot of times, I was all by myself. I had to think outside the box,” he said.
Todd noted a large portion of the general public thinks the fire department is a paid service.
“We’re providing the same thing as a paid service, but it’s volunteers,” he said. “I’m not sitting in the bay, on the truck, waiting for the call…I’m either home watching tv or having my dinner. And for many years, I was at work. I’d show up with grease all over me.”
Todd is now retired from the work life and is a range safety officer and firearm instructor.
At the fire department, he is coming up with ways to keep members current with their skills.
“I’ve been trying to come up with newer motivational type drills to get people excited about doing this stuff again, and get people back into the drills,’ he said. “I’m trying to make it fun. That’s the biggest part.”
Every fire call is different and presents its own challenges, which keeps members on their toes as well.
“You take a simple CO (carbon monoxide) call. There are CO detectors going off. We go in with our meter. What happens if it isn’t just a bad CO detector,” Todd said.
He recalled one house with a very high reading and he had to evacuate everyone.
“What happened was they had no electricity and they had a generator running outside away from the house, but the tailpipe was pointed toward the porch and there was a small hole in the cinder blocks and it was pumping CO into the basement.”
Other times, the call is for someone with a disability needing lifting assistance. In one case, someone was wrapped around the toilet.
“We had to go through the bathroom window to get in and help him,” Todd said.
New homeowners not aware that the potential for flooded basements can also pose problems.
“They were out the window with buckets,” Todd said of a call to pump a flooded basement. “The water was running into the bottom of the house and they were trying to dump it out.”
An active member must be at least 18 years old, but there are few limits on the amount of training one can take. The only thing you can’t do is drive a truck until you’re 21.
“Seniors or juniors in high school. That’s really where we should be planting the seeds,” Todd said.
“We need younger people. We’ve had a good influx of a lot of retired people, which is great. There’s always there’s a lot of different jobs but we need people for interior firefighting,” Lt. Karen Pignataro said.
“We can get little lights and horns for our walkers,” Todd joked.
For more information about joining, come to the open house or contact the fire department at (845) 679-9922 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.