Fire Chief’s All-Important Call for Volunteers
Chief Paul Eiden spoke to The Inside Press about the continuing and pressing need for firefighting volunteers from the community. He also provided valuable suggestions as to how Chappaqua residents can get involved. Fortunately, volunteers have joined throughout the summer to help the department respond to emergencies in the area. But while volunteers of any age over 16 are encouraged to join, Chief Eiden noted that adults who will not be attending school during the academic year are at this juncture the ideal candidates.
“The adults are the key because of the longevity we hope to obtain by bringing in folks who are out of school,” he explained. For those who would like to get involved, Eiden explains that no experience is required: “The only thing they really have to provide is their time.”
“The initial training at the fire academy is long,” he went on. “It’s north of 130 hours over a period of a couple of months, but we provide residents with any kind of training they need before they go to the academy, and then any type of support they need for skill refreshers.”
Intrigued? What You Need to Know
So what does that 130-hour training process look like?
Eiden describes the time commitment as a few nights during the week as well as every Saturday. Once that training process is completed, the fire department follows the New York State Length of Service Awards Program (LOSAP) requirements which allow their firefighters to qualify for pension credits.
For points to be allotted to the firefighters for alarm response, volunteers must make at least 10% of the alarm calls that the department receives per year. Eiden explained that given the number of alarm calls the Chappaqua Fire Department receives, this amounts to about 45 to 50 alarm calls per firefighter in a year, or about three to four per month.
“You know that there are people who will drop whatever they’re doing to help you at a moment’s notice, and you would do the same for them. It sounds very cliche to use the phrase ‘brotherhood and sisterhood’, but it really is true.”
– Chappaqua Fire Chief Paul Eiden
However, Eiden also noted that 95% of the Chappaqua Fire Department membership far exceeds this minimum, with each firefighter responding to about 30-50% of alarms per year. This allows the department to send multiple trucks on calls and alarms, which Eiden says is a “really good feeling as a chief, to know that I’ve got these folks coming in ready to work and able to do what we need to be done when there’s an emergency.”
“The minimum standards for the amount of time you have to give throughout the course of the year is not insurmountable,” Eiden ensures. “It’s definitely manageable within the family structure, whether or not you’ve got other activities outside of the work environment. We find a role for everybody.”
Even once volunteers begin responding to emergencies, Eiden finds that it is crucial for firefighters to continue practicing their skill set and keeping on top of drills and training. He uses the expression that “these skills are perishable,” particularly because Chappaqua does not receive as many emergency calls as a department in an urban environment would. As such, it is essential to regularly refresh the basics. One such opportunity is on Thursday nights when the firehouse hosts “house duty”.
House duty offers members an opportunity to run drills, training, and check their apparatus and equipment to make sure everything is functioning and properly in inventory. People come by to have their questions answered and to see what a volunteer fire department is all about. “For instance, Thursday night we’re going to have a drill we call ‘core competencies,’” Eiden said. “There are five or six different stations that each of the firefighters will go to: connecting a hydrant, putting up a ladder, starting a chainsaw.”
Working together so often, and in such stressful conditions, makes for a unique bond between members of the firehouse. Eiden says that “it really is a very large family… so that when you walk into that building you know that the person on your left and the person on your right have your back with whatever you need–whether it’s going out on an emergency or something going on at home.”
Indeed, the camaraderie between firefighters goes beyond just their time in the firehouse. Eiden tells a story of a time he was away on college visits with his daughter and had an electrical issue at his house. He called up another member of the firehouse, who used to be a general contractor, and he came over to Eiden’s house to resolve the problem while Eiden and his daughter were away.
“That kind of feeling is definetly what we are all about,” Eiden said. “You know that there are people who will drop whatever they’re doing to help you at a moment’s notice, and you would do the same for them. It sounds very cliche to use the phrase ‘brotherhood and sisterhood’, but it really is true.”
Eiden’s daughter is now a firefighter at Chappaqua Fire Department as well, and his son does the same in Mount Kisco. The chief expresses pride not only in his children becoming firefighters, but also in the relationships they are building as they grow within their departments and become leaders themselves. Outside of its work responding to emergencies, the firehouse reaches out to the community to spread fire prevention and safety tips.
Community Education Opportunities during Fire Prevention Month
October is Fire Prevention Month, which means that the Chappaqua Fire Department will visit the Chappaqua nursery schools to speak to the children and acclimate them to being around firefighters in case of an emergency.
And they make it fun and memorable, too. “We bring a couple of our firefighters, and we talk to the kids; the firefighters go from being in street clothes to being completely dressed including being on a tank of air where they sound like Darth Vader,” Eiden explained.
“The gist of that is so that the kids can see how they went from being just a regular person, who was talking to them and making them laugh, to being a firefighter, so that they’re not afraid if a firefighter has to come to their house for an emergency and they’re not all of a sudden intimidated by this person in weird clothing.”
As the firefighters go through the stages of getting into their gear for the children, they associate each step with things that the kids are familiar with. For example, they liken their protective clothing to hoods, raincoats, or boots one may wear when it rains. “We’ve found that really helps the kids have a better understanding of what’s going to happen when we show up,” Eiden said.
“Another thing we do is ask the teachers to emphasize when they’re doing the weekly recap note that goes out to the parents, fire drills in the home,” he went on. “In a corporate environment, we have fire drills in the office. Kids have fire drills at school. But how many families have a meeting place outside of the house in case a fire alarm goes off? Do the kids know they shouldn’t go back in to get their favorite toy or find the family dog? They have a job, and their job is to get out of the house.”
Teaching your children about what to do in case of an emergency, the location of fire extinguishers in the home, and setting up a meeting place outside of the home are key topics to discuss as a family to be prepared in case of an emergency. For more fire prevention insights, don’t miss the the Chappaqua Fire Department’s Open House, which is hosted on one of the first two weekends in October for Fire Prevention Month.
At the Open House, firefighters will start fires in a metal trough, so that residents can practice using a fire extinguisher to help put it out. Residents can also watch as firefighters use the jaws of life to cut up a car, simulating a car accident. They also offer activities for kids, including a fire hose with a nozzle on it and a spinning target which allows them to try using a fire hose.
Eiden says they also give out coloring books and “some take-home things so that if parents are really engaged, they can bring it home and extend those lessons.” Volunteer applications are available on the Chappaqua Fire Department’s website, and residents are always encouraged to get involved any way they can. Chief Eiden concluded: “What better thing to do then support your friends and neighbors in that way?”
Visit chappaquafd.org for more info.
Photos in this article are all courtesy of the Chappaqua Fire Department.