Unsung Hero: Cory Clarkston, Chauffeur-Engineer, Pearl River Volunteer Fire Department

Volunteer Cory Clarkston serves as a chauffeur-engineer and Commissioner of the Pearl River Fire District. He is responsible for driving, operating and maintaining fire department apparatus and he responds to emergency fire and hazardous material alarms.

By Barry Warner

Chauffeur-Engineers are responsible for firefighting vehicles, such as fire engines, that transport firefighters, carry equipment and pump water at fire scenes. They make sure that the vehicles are clean and running efficiently, the gas tanks contain enough fuel and all systems are working. They may perform maintenance tasks, such as replacing necessary fluids, but often leave major issues to a repair staff. Safety is a primary concern, as they drive vehicles under demanding emergencies through road traffic.

“I come from a long line of family members who have served proudly for over 105 years, in the Pearl River Volunteer Fire Department,” Cory Clarkston told the Rockland County Times. “It started with my grandfather, who joined the Excelsior Engine Company in 1913, followed by my uncles and father. I joined Pearl River Hook and Ladder Co. #1 in 1974 at 16 years old. I joined the U.S. Navy at 19 years old, served 20 years and retired as a Senior Chief. I then returned to Pearl River and I continue to serve the community in the fire department as an interior firefighter and chauffeur-engineer. I’m one of the top responders in the company.”

“As Chief Chauffeur, I’m responsible for compliance and training of the chauffeurs and maintenance of the apparatus. Every week, all the vehicles are checked to make sure everything works. The emergency vehicles cannot be kept out of service too long. The Emergency Vehicle Operator Course (EVOC) covers all the techniques needed to maintain the highest level of safety possible. Defensive driving techniques include space management, traffic signal preemption at intersections, use of the Onspot tire chain system in deep snow, rate of closure, ice and wet leaves maneuvers, backing up and braking performance.”

“I have been publicly re-elected to another five-year term as a Fire Commissioner for the Pearl River Fire District. I manage this District of 100 people and record-keeping must be in order. The operating budget has to comply with all the rules and laws of New York State. I make decisions concerning fire safety, including the expenditure of funds to ensure protection regarding training and equipment, such as hydraulic rescue tools and Scott Bottles for the volunteer firefighters. We must provide a safe working space for everybody, even though we have to go into unsafe conditions.”

A fire vehicle inspection report includes the following:

. Fluid levels (diesel, coolant, engine oil, transmission oil, power steering, windshield washer)

. Lights (brakes, headlights, directional and emergency signals, work scene)

. Radios (high band UHF, County)

. Sirens/horns (electric sirens, air horns)

. Drivetrain (transmission, brakes, back-up camera, parking brake)

. Generator (engage/disengage, outlets, work scene lights)

. Pump (engage/disengage, panel lights, tank to pump, water tank level, drains, throttle control)

. Cab (windshield wipers, heater, A/C, defroster, mirrors, crew lights).

Interior firefighters are charged with duties ranging from saving lives to keeping firefighting equipment clean. At a moment’s notice, a firefighter must be ready to perform job functions, such as rescuing people or animals from burning or collapsed buildings, fighting fires and providing emergency medical assistance. Other responsibilities include carrying hoses, climbing ladders, hooking hoses up to hydrants and breaking through walls. They must engage in practice drills and ongoing training in areas of fire prevention and control, as well as the preservation of life and property.

Traffic Signal Preemption is a procedure used in many cities through which traffic lights that have been equipped with special infrared receiving devices can be changed when a signal is sent from a special transmitter in a vehicle. Normally, a vehicle, such as a fire truck equipped with a preemption device will use it when approaching a red signal at the intersection to immediately change the signal to green. The range for a mobile infrared transmitter is about 1,500 feet.

The Onspot Automatic Tire Chain System offers the traction of a single set of conventional snow chains at the flip of a dashboard switch without having to stop the vehicle. The system works in forward, reverse or while braking in either direction. When the dashboard switch is activated, compressed air enters the cylinder, which lowers the chainwheel position to contact the inside of the tire. The contact between the sidewall and the rubber-covered chainwheel causes it to rotate, creating enough centrifugal force to swing the chains out and underneath the tire. There are always two chain strands between the tire and road surface.

Hydraulic rescue tools, also known as the ‘Jaws of Life’ are used by emergency personnel to assist vehicle extraction of crash victims, as well as other rescues from small spaces. These tools include cutters, spreaders and rams.

Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) systems deliver clean air from an attached cylinder or Scott Bottle that is worn on the back to allow use in oxygen-deficient atmospheres. The cylinder can be heavy and has limited air supply, so they work best for emergency response situations and other short-term use.

“I volunteer to give back to the community, because of how I was raised and the love of the job,” Clarkston concluded. “ I’m serving as a chauffeur-engineer and commissioner now and will continue to do so as long as I am able. There were times in my life when I needed a hand or two and this is my way of returning the favor. It’s very rewarding when you help people!”

For additional information about volunteering, visit www.pearlriverfdco1.org or call 845-735-8822.