“I’ve been a part of this fire company since I was this high,” Lake Huntington Fire Chief Jason Kraack said, holding his hand about two feet off the floor. His dad, Ed Kraack, nodded. No doubt, because Ed’s been in the fire company for some 45 years, with 14 of those logged in as chief.
“It is a way of life,” Ed explained.
Not only is it a way of life, it’s an extended family, said Cochecton Ambulance Captain Herb Sawall.
These three, along with volunteer Ray Evans, were gathered at the new fire station on Saturday morning to do prep work for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the fire company on July 14. And as the men talked about how the changing demographic was challenging volunteer fire companies throughout the region and the nation, young Cameron Sullivan was proudly pointing out all of the fire apparatus in the cavernous new building that fronts County Route 116 by the Cochecton Town Hall.
And not unlike many of the traditions that have given small town living its values, becoming a volunteer fire fighter is harder now than it used to be. Not only has the required training hours changed from some 36 hours of the old Fire Essentials to a 96-hour Firefighter I, lack of employment in town is taking residents out of the area during the day. Fire companies are also challenged as youth who have grown up and trained with the company go off to college and pursue careers elsewhere.
But not surprisingly, for those who have stayed or moved into the area, the benefits of joining the ranks as an emergency service provider have never been stronger.
“There is a sense of belonging and camaraderie when everyone gets together,” said Evans, who is a new member. “When I was a weekender in Narrowsburg, I went to the firehouse and asked what I could do. They told me to come back when I retire.” Grinning, he said that he retired to Lake Huntington and the fire company has welcomed him with open arms and put him right to work. He and Ed oversaw the building of the firehouse, a project which, according to Ed, was 30 years in the making.
The new firehouse, which is being shared with the Cochecton Volunteer Ambulance Corps as a cost-saving measure for both, sports a large meeting room and a beautiful new kitchen, which will make its inaugural appearance at the Pancake Breakfast, beginning at 7 a.m. The kitchen will provide the company with the opportunity to host different events (maybe even a Thanksgiving dinner, if Ed gets his way), give the community a place to gather and a facility to rent.
“We used to have a three-day Firemen’s Field Day,” Ed said. “But we couldn’t continue that due to insurance liabilities.” Additionally, it was a lot to ask members to be continually volunteering for social events, beyond fire fighting duties. But with the new firehouse, and its sunny welcoming space, the company is hopeful that it can accommodate part-time participation of anyone who might have as little as a few hours on a monthly basis. “Maybe you can’t give every day, but you might be able to give that one day that makes a difference,” Jason said.
“It’s the best thing I have ever done,” Evans added.
“Nobody’s here for the recognition. We’re here for the community, to do a job that needs to be done. That’s the thing that’s nice about fire service,” Jason said. “Whatever your age or ability, there’s a job to be done.”
To volunteer or to find out more about joining this extended family of service, call 845/932-8444.