Unsung Hero Jeff Potischman: Hillcrest FD Volunteer Firefighter

BY BARRY WARNER

Hillcrest Firefighter Jeff Potischman’s turnout gear must be tough and durable, while maintaining comfort and breathability to minimize fatigue and heat stress. It must allow him the flexibility to respond to a vehicle accident, ventilate a roof or fight a three-alarm blaze.

Volunteer firefighter Jeff Potischman of Hillcrest Fire Co. No. 1 has impressed peers and company leaders with his passion for service and commitment to improving his skills. His dedication stands out even amongst the team of 250 volunteers comprising the county’s largest and second busiest fire department, Hillcrest Chief John Erzen told the Rockland County Times.

Since Rockland County relies entirely on volunteers to fill out its firefighting corps, the contagious positive energy of someone like Potischman is extremely valuable.

Chief Erzen told The Rockland County Times, “Since joining the Hillcrest Fire Department, Jeff Potischman has become one of our most valued and active firefighters. When we were asked to select a member who we thought would be a candidate as an ‘Unsung Hero,’ Jeff was our guy hands down. His enthusiasm and passion for the fire service is always what we are looking for in any member joining our organization. He is a well-trained firefighter and driver, who continues to impress his colleagues and officers. I have no doubt he will move up the ranks quickly and one day to become chief and a great one at that.”

Erzen continued, “For me personally, the one thing that always stands out about Jeff, he’s always looking to improve and better himself for the next emergency we respond to. He’s a bit of a perfectionist, which is a great trait for any firefighter. It’s such a pleasure working with him on the fire ground and also behind the scenes with some of the various in-house projects. The next time you see Hillcrest FD on the road, it’s very likely you may see Jeff either driving the truck or geared up ready for a call. Don’t be afraid to give a little wave hello.”

Potischman said, “Currently, I am teaching social studies in Westchester, but I also devote a lot of time to the Hillcrest Fire Department. I have been a volunteer firefighter for five years, have been trained in many areas of fire protection plus rescue services and hope to be a chief in the future.”

“There is no greater reward in life than helping someone in need,” said Potischman. “As a kid, I lived down the street from a firehouse and was fascinated by it all and wanted to be a firefighter. I go on about 800 to 1,000 runs a year. I belong to a brotherhood of firefighters, where we spend a lot of time together and have each others’ backs.”

Potischman explained to the Rockland County Times some of the basics of “fire suppression.” He said, “The priorities of fire suppression are life safety and property preservation. Fire suppression team members participate in daily inspections, fire safety education programs and other fire-related duties. The search team uses dogs, listening devices and other search equipment to find victims buried under the debris of a disaster including downed firefighters.

“Fires are ventilated by cutting a hole in the roof to improve interior conditions and to reduce the chances of getting people and firefighters hurt or killed. Increased visibility allows crews to perform a rapid search and reduce the chances of becoming lost or disoriented.

“I have been trained to become a member of the Ice Rescue Team. More people are venturing out onto the ice and are participating in activities such as skating and fishing. It’s important to have an understanding of ice characteristics, such as its strength and weakness, because if the ice gives way, hypothermia can affect the firefighter and victim.”

Potischman said he has had experience using the “Jaws of Life,” a series of piston-rod hydraulic tools that includes cutters, spreaders and rams which are used to pry-open vehicles involved in accidents when a victim may be trapped. He said, “The Emergency Vehicle Operating Course (EVOC) taught me the fundamentals of fire truck and road dynamics including evasive maneuvering and laws of the road in emergency and nonemergency response situations, use of lights and sirens, entering an intersection, steering and braking, lane changes plus backing up the vehicle.”

Hillcrest Fire Co. No. 1 “proudly protects over 10,000 residences and businesses in an area of about 36 square miles” according to its website. It is also the only department to provide coverage in parts of three towns: Ramapo, Haverstraw and Clarkstown. Only next-door Spring Valley Fire Dept. receives more calls than the tri-town Hillcrest company.

In addition to providing fire and rescue services, the department is committed to providing fire safety education to the residents of the county. According to the website www.hillcrestfd.org, follow these steps for Fire Safety at Home:

. Smoke detectors save lives. Make sure your home has a least 1 on every floor, including the basement and that they work.

. Never smoke when you are tired. Approximately 1/3 of all residential fire victims lost their lives in fires that were smoking-related. If you have a smoker in your home, make sure there are big, heavy ashtrays around the house.

. Appliances should be unplugged when not in use. If an appliance begins to smoke or smell funny, unplug it immediately.

. Do not overload electrical outlets.

. Do not run extension cords underneath rugs.

. Keep your furnace and water heater clear of any flammable materials.

. Never leave a stove or burner unattended while cooking.

. Clean the lint filter on your clothes dryer after each use. Dust and lint buildup is a common cause of fires.

. Fire extinguishers are an important device to have on hand. If you have one in your home, make sure you know how to use it properly and also what type of fires it can be used on. You should only use a fire extinguisher on small, contained fires!

If you are considering becoming a volunteer firefighter for Hillcrest Fire Co. No. 1, e-mail Chief John Erzen at johnerzen76@aol.com or call 845-356-0347.