SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — “Seeing a tragic accident that could have been prevented,” replied John Hauschild, Sullivan County Fire Coordinator, when asked what Fire Prevention Week 2020 …
SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — “Seeing a tragic accident that could have been prevented,” replied John Hauschild, Sullivan County Fire Coordinator, when asked what Fire Prevention Week 2020 means to him.
And he should know, as after 39 years serving the cause of local firematics, Hauschild’s witnessed more than his fair share of fire-related disasters that could have been prevented with a little knowledge, foresight and preparation.
In his role as head of firematics in the county, he recently took a few minutes to explain the importance of recognizing Fire Prevention Week (FPW), a program developed by the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), the importance of local volunteer fire companies to the safety of our community and the critical need to provide firefighters with state-of-the-art apparatuses.
The NFPA was founded in 1896 and, since 1922, it has sponsored the public observance of FPW, which is observed each year during the week of October 9 in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire that first ignited on October 8, 1871.
History records that this conflagration caused devastating damage to the city, killed more than 250,000 people, left 100,000 homeless, leveled an estimated 17,400 structures and consumed more than 2,000 acres of land.
In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed FPW a national observance, making it the longest-running public health awareness event in the nation.
The theme of Fire Prevention Week 2020 (Sunday, October 4 to Saturday, October 10) is “Serve Up Safety in the Kitchen.”
According to the NFPA, cooking is the number-one cause of home fires and home injuries, unattended cooking is the leading cause of kitchen fires and scald burns are the second-leading cause of all burn injuries.
“Fire Prevention Week is not just one week during the year,” said Hauschild. “[It] should be practiced all through the year. Kitchen safety, woodstove safety, portable heater safety, and Christmas tree safety—it should be practiced every day of the week. There’s nothing worse than seeing an accident that could have been prevented.”
Volunteer firefighters protect the communities they serve
Hauschild joined the local fire service in 1981 when he signed the dotted line with the Jeffersonville Volunteer Fire Department, twice serving as chief of the department.
“I worked my way through the ranks,” he said, noting that as the decades advanced, he became a NYS fire instructor assigned to the county, an adjunct state instructor both in-county and at the NYS Frederick L. Warder Academy of Fire Science in Montour Fall, NY.
In 2016, Hauschild was named Sullivan County Fire Coordinator, whose assigned duties include administering the State Fire Training Program, providing training at the Sullivan County Emergency Service Training Center in Swan Lake, NY, and numerous other programs vital to the safety of the public.
At the core of any volunteer fire company are its members, and these days it’s tough to get new recruits and sometimes even harder to maintain rolls of active members.
“Getting new members is always a problem,” said Hauschild. “We might get some new members, but then we lose them... young members [go] off to college and don’t come back.”
According to the county’s fire commissioner and coordinator of the county’s emergency services training center, his office is in the process of conducting a survey of the departments in all districts of the county to determine if they have a recruitment program
There are three categories for membership in a volunteer fire department in the Empire State: Cadet Firefighter (14 to 15 years old, who are not allowed to take NYS fire training courses, as training is done within their departments, with certain restrictions), Member with Restrictions (16 to 17 years old, with certain limits on what they can do, and able to take NYS fire training courses with parent/guardian permission) and Members (18 years of age and up).
“You can join at [the age of] 14,” said Hauschild, noting that NYS fire training starts off with the requirement that (older) recruits master a 1,600-plus page textbook on the essentials of firefighting.
At present, there are roughly 1,650 volunteer firefighters serving in 41 departments in the county, along with six paid firefighters with the Monticello Fire Department.
In addition, there are approximately 250 members of local Emergency Medical Service (EMS) units in Sullivan County.
All potential new recruits to the local fire service must pass specialized arson and sex offender background checks conducted by the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office.
Hauschild said that while the “numbers are dwindling,” things have recently started picking up, as during the period January 1, 2020 to September 11, 2020, the local fire service “took in 72 new firefighters.”
State-of-the-art apparatuses are key to firefighting
Things have come a long way since Ctestbius of Alexandria invented the first fire pump sometime in the second century, B.C., and the device was reportedly reinvented during the 16th century when the redesigned fire pump was used in Augsburg during a fire in 1518, and later to fight a 1657 blaze in Nuremberg.
In colonial America, laws at the time required each household to have a bucket of water on the front stoop for use by first responders, manning bucket brigades, to combat nighttime conflagrations.
Then as technology and equipment evolved, horses replaced the men who were called into duty to move early fire apparatuses from stations to fires, and in more modern eras, what would eventually become state-of-the-art apparatuses took over from dangerous steam-driven fire engines.
At present, the 41 active fire departments in Sullivan County boast a fleet of modern-day apparatuses, including aerial trucks located at seven local companies: Monticello, Fallsburg, Liberty, Loch Sheldrake, Youngsville, Callicoon and Roscoe.
According to Fire Commissioner Hauschild, the cost of a new engine, depending on equipment ranges from $300,000 to $700,000, while aerial apparatuses easily top one million.
As modern building materials “burn hotter and faster” than the old standbys such as wood and plaster, Hauschild said departments are adding expensive thermal imaging equipment and infrared cameras to their arsenal of firefighting equipment “to locate hotspots and bodies.”
“We constantly need to upgrade our equipment,” he added, noting that in an effort to save taxpayer money and improve the efficiency of firefighting, “a lot of departments are consolidating apparatuses, covering each other.”
The recent donation of a 1984 Pierce engine from the Monticello Fire Department to the fire training center’s firefighting training program also reduces the need for departments to place apparatuses on standby status when active apparatuses are used during training sessions.
“It’s a great asset to the training facility,” said Hauschild, noting that the replacement value of the pumper rig is in the neighborhood of $500,000 to $600,000.
The county’s fire coordinator said “firefighting is a passion of mine, and still is.” For 14 years, he served as co-chairman of the local fire prevention committee, along with Jim Dworetsky, former chief of the Youngsville Fire Department, who tragically passed away on November 25, 1995.