Last week, 42 volunteer firefighters graduated from Rockland County’s Firefighter 1 Class. Facilitated by the Rockland County Fire Training Center, the program is an introductory course for Rockland residents who already volunteer for their own town fire halls (26 in Rockland County) and wish to become a greater asset to their departments. The class also serves as the first official steppingstone for those aiming to become career firefighters.
Firefighter 1 Class instructors use a combination of techniques to teach students the basics of serving a fire department. This includes hands-on skills such as equipping firefighter turnout gear, how to take hoses off the fire engine to stretch them inside a building and how to properly decontaminate turnout gear. In addition to this hands-on training, recruits also study in a traditional classroom setting and receive instruction on how fires start, grow and decay.
Taking place over 43 nights and roughly 140 hours in scope, the commitment is not a small one. Because students can begin the program as early as age 16, many trainees balance their volunteer work and studies with regular high school courses. Others are starting or caring for their families.
“Some guys that are 16 they may do this for a couple years and then realize, ‘Yeah, I want to be a career firefighter,’” said Kurt Mulligan, Chief of Stony Point Fire Department and one of the instructors for this program. “(Other) people in their 30s or 40s already have their careers and are just starting to do this now, because they want to give back to the community in some way.”
“It’s great seeing how the younger and older guys are going through this together—they all need help doing it together,” added Orin Ben-Jacob, Assistant Chief of Hillcrest Fire Department and fellow instructor. “They all help each other. I wouldn’t ever say at some point in this class that the 16-year-old’s were acting a certain way. It was a great group.”
The past week’s Firefighter 1 Class graduation ceremony was particularly special, as it was the first ceremony of its kind held since the beginning of COVID-19. While other groups of firefighters have completed the course since then, Mulligan and Ben-Jacob said this was the first group to receive a celebration for their efforts.
The ceremony was held at Clarkstown Town Hall, courtesy of Supervisor George Hoehmann. Hoehmann and County Fire Coordinator Chris Kear offered congratulatory remarks during the occasion. Chiefs of the 26 fire departments in Rockland were present, along with the firefighters’ friends and family. The Rockland County Emerald Pipe Band played, with refreshments served after.
When asked what he would tell someone thinking of becoming a volunteer firefighter, Ben-Jacob emphasized that anyone can serve.
“Not everyone needs to be the person running into a burning building to put out the fire,” Ben-Jacob noted. “There’s so many jobs on a fire scene that need to happen and take place. Some people think that they can’t because (they’re not) physically fit or able to do it. My thing is, there’s always a job for someone. Sometimes we just need people to help with rehab by bringing water and bringing chairs for the guys to sit down when they run out…Every job is important. And there’s a job for everyone.”