Dear Editor,

It is a bitterly cold evening and while the wind chill makes it -20, I’m nestled in our cozy home where I can hear the fireplace crackling from the other room. My three little girls are tucked into bed, and I’m too tired to worry about the mess of dinner, dishes and leftovers in the kitchen.

This is the time that my husband and I have set aside to spend together to catch up on our shows, share the silly photos we took of our kids or figure out our impending hectic schedules. Instead, I’m sitting here alone, worried about him and the others I know who will be alongside him, and concerned for the family across town who just lost their home in a fire.

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Reading the article on TAPinto Roxbury about this young family, with children who are close in age to my own, losing everything, has me distraught. Just this past November, one of my students lost her home in a blaze on Thanksgiving. The things I take for granted everyday were wiped away from these families in one inconceivable moment.

I can’t help but think about the men and women who rushed off to their rescue; volunteers like my husband and father. Growing up with a dad who had volunteered since he was sixteen years old should have made me immune to what it would be like to be the wife of a fireman.

I often heard stories about my grandmother whose husband and two sons would run out, just as dinner was served, forcing her to sit alone and pray for their safe return. I never understood the feelings that my grandmother or mother had until I married into the fire service. And now, after ten years together, I know the fears and the disappointments all too well.

My husband often says, “You should be used to this; you grew up with it. What did you think would happen when you married a fireman?” And truthfully, until you experience it for yourself, it’s very hard to imagine what it would be like.

Too many dinners to count were eaten after the kids went to bed, far too many family gatherings where he sped off, and way too many “family days”, when we said we would spend the day just the five of us, he was answering the call.

My husband personally responded to serve our community 368 times in the last calendar year. The tones go off from that little black box on his hip, and I have to hurry to mumble an “I love you” or “be safe” before he’s out of sight. And with no hesitation, never a thought to let someone else handle it, he’s already focused on the person who needs help.

Sometimes it’s easy, like tonight, to know that a stranger needs him more than we do. I’m proud to know that while someone may be having his worst day, it’s my husband who will be there to lend a helping hand. Other times, it’s more difficult than I let on. To know that he’d leave his family in an instant to go help someone else’s- it’s tough to swallow on some days. I can’t help but get frustrated at the lack of members that are staffing our firehouses and at the burden it imposes on those who already volunteer.

And then there are the heartwarming stories of the house that was saved due to a quick response, of the little girl who was thrown from a bus but survived, of the family who was spared because of a carbon monoxide detector, and of the woman who was so thankful to still be alive that she brought dinner down to the firehouse as a token of appreciation. These are the moments I can relish as a proud wife of a volunteer fireman.

Many people are unaware that the fire departments in Morris County, New Jersey are staffed by volunteers. While some may have paid firefighters on duty, these departments mostly rely on the volunteers to run their calls. These men and women train for 244 hours at a fire academy, after work and on weekends, just to become a New Jersey certified firefighter.

To become an EMT the training is close to 300 hours with additional re-certifications needed each year. Each month, members attend meetings, drills, other required trainings, and community events. They go without sleep, attend to the needs of strangers, see things we could not imagine, and many, like my husband, do all of this in addition to having full time jobs.

“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.” -Elizabeth Andrew

So, tonight, while most of us are cuddled up under our favorite fleece blankets, scrolling through our social media accounts, and safe from the elements, please remember the men and women who spend countless hours preparing to come to our aid. Volunteers serve our great community day and night so that we can call on them during our most desperate moments.

Here are a few reminders that will significantly increase your safety as well ease the burden on our volunteer departments:

  • Smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector batteries should be changed every 6 months or can be replaced with new 10 year sealed battery detectors (now required if you sell or rent your home).
  • Arriving by ambulance does not get you seen faster at the hospital. There’s a triage system in place to assess which patients are in need of help before others. For non-emergencies, call a friend or Uber.
  • Flashing lights=safely move your vehicle out of the way. Emergency responders need to get to someone who needs their help.
  • Seatbelts (and car seats) really do save lives. Every trip, every time!
  • Run your generators outside-away from any doors or windows.
  • Make sure your house number is clearly visible from the road, and from both directions if posted by the street.

Please consider volunteering to be an EMT, firefighter, driver, or auxiliary member in your town to help ease the burden on our volunteer departments. Visit your local fire department for more information.

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