While most of us were sleeping last week, Rockland County’s dedicated first responders crawled through twisted metal, thick brush and pitch black to rescue a trucker from his wrecked tractor trailer. The 18-wheeler crashed through a metal guardrail and careened down an 80-foot embankment, ultimately coming to rest about 100 feet into the rocky, densly wooded terrain off the New York State Thruway in West Nyack.
Rockland County’s Technical Rescue Team and firefighters from the West Nyack and Central Nyack fire departments worked for more than 90 minutes with small power saws to gnaw though the truck’s cab to free the driver. He will survive.
Just 48 hours before the Thruway wreck, Rockland County’s HAZMAT team responded with firefighters from Haverstraw and Ramapo to a chemical explosion in Pomona. Several laboratory scientists at Barr Laboratories were exposed to potentially lethal potassium cyanide. Our skilled hazardous materials first responders donned protective suits and walked toward the danger. The lab workers were later treated at Nyack Hospital and released.
These two serious incidents, along with hundreds of other calls for help this month, should give us pause. Each time a fire truck races to a blaze or an ambulance rolls up to an accident, the dedicated men and women “coming to the rescue” are unpaid volunteers.
Rockland County is a dynamic community due in large part to volunteer firefighters and medics who freely give their time. Their contributions enrich our towns and villages, make us more resilient and help define the character of our neighborhoods.
It is not only the volunteers who serve the community, but also the families which allow them to do the special work. Fire and emergency medical calls respect no schedules and arrive at any hour. Our first responders sacrifice time with their wives, husbands and children and their careers, responding at a moment’s notice to protect the lives and property of those who need help. There are not many groups that require their unpaid members to put down their pens, tools or kids, day or night, and rush off to put themselves in harm’s way to help others.
Aside from providing an invaluable service to our residents, involvement in volunteer emergency services also brings personal benefits. First responders gain experience in disciplined teamwork, leadership, decision-making and communication, all critical skills valued at home and by employers, who can be very understanding when volunteers dash off to an emergency call.
The work of volunteer first responders is estimated to be worth over $140 billion to communities across the nation. A recent study by the Rockland County Office of Fire and Emergency Services found that hiring full-time firefighters – at an annual salary of just $40,000 – would cost taxpayer an additional $135 million every year. This staggering number doesn’t even include health benefits and pension costs. From a financial perspective, the same volunteer who may save your life is also saving you lots of money.
Sadly, there is no greater challenge facing the volunteer emergency services today than recruitment and retention. In an attempt to change this, Rockland County Clerk Paul Piperato last month recognized County firefighters, EMS crews and auxiliary police by offering special discounts at local businesses. The Rockland S.A.V.E.S. program is a commonsense incentive to attract new recruits and give back what we can to our volunteer responders, who are vital in keeping our families and communities safe.
It takes a special kind of person to run uphill against the crowd fleeing danger. As a former NYPD officer, believe me I know. I am proud to have so many in Rockland County. It’s the people who step forward to help their neighbors that make the real difference. On behalf of more than 300,000 local residents, thank you for your courage and the selfless work you do in our communities to save lives.