Some of you may remember Dennis Smiths’ book, “Report From Engine Company 82”, about the “bad old days” when the “Fort Apache” area had the busiest firehouse in the world. Firefighter Smith detailed the horrific fire rate; the displaced immigrants; the grinding poverty- the overall destruction of the South Bronx.
Well, the Bronx isn’t burning any longer, but Spring Valley is. The fire rate in Spring Valley exceeds that of all the fire departments in Rockland County added together. For the past few years, Spring Valley’s volunteer fire departments have answered an average of one thousand calls a year.
Let that sink in a minute. One thousand calls a year.
According to the US Census Bureau, Spring Valley is 2.2 square miles, with a population estimated at 32,359; Rockland County is 173.55 square miles, with a population estimated at 320, 900.
Do you think, maybe, that we have a fire problem?
Let’s define the problem. There is an aging infrastructure; a widespread, callous disregard for building codes and public safety; a pool of poor tenants who are afraid to speak up; overwhelmed and under-served code enforcers; and a Village government that fiddles while Spring Valley burns.
The fire education programs are shelved for lack of funds; lack of manpower; lack of time; and most importantly, lack of support because they are deemed to be money-draining ventures instead of revenue producing efforts. And all of this gets dumped onto the volunteer fire personnel.
Who, by the way, are kind of busy risking their lives fighting preventable fires. For free.
Two things are on a collision course here- the volunteer firefighters are going to literally “burn out”, and this village is overdue for a catastrophic, fatal fire.
So, what’s to be done?
-Village government needs to do its job.
-Code Officials need to be ALLOWED to do their jobs.
-Education, education, education.
-Landlords need to put their ethics in front of their wallets. Whatever
God you worship doesn’t tell you it’s OK to abuse your neighbor.
-Residents, both tenants and owners, need to practice safety in the home.
-And your VOLUNTEER fire departments need your support. NOW.
The final lesson from Smith’s book is that the South Bronx eventually burned itself out because it ran out of things to burn.
Do we want to wait that long in Spring Valley?
Katherine Keenan Tolf
EMT volunteer, former volunteer firefighter, fire safety graduate