The Yorktown Fire Department is seeking new volunteers.
Engine Company 1 was formed more than 100 years ago by 33 volunteers and what started as a bucket brigade has now grown into one of the largest volunteer fire departments in Westchester.
“As Yorktown has grown, so have we. We are one of the biggest districts in Westchester County. Most people don’t realize that because we are broken up between Yorktown Heights and Lake Mohegan,” said Lt. Matt Lauria. “Most people know about the fire department, but they don’t really know what we do. Here it’s your neighbors; it’s all volunteers.”
Former Chief Charlie Moseman, who has served the fire department for more than 50 years, recounted a time when a tire iron was hit to signal to residents and firefighters there was a fire in town. He would run from his school, which is now the Albert A. Capellini Community & Cultural Center, to the firehouse.
“There were no phones, either, (so) you ran down and hit that tire iron with a hammer and that told people there was a fire.
People that lived in the vicinity would come here, they’d get the hand pumper, they’d get the hose cart and buckets and they’d go do what they could do,” Moseman said.
Today, the engine company receives more than 700 phone calls a year and hosts two special operations teams—a firefighter rescue team and water rescue and dive team.
In fact, it is one of only two fire departments with water-based rescue teams in the region, the other being Mahopac Falls.
According to Lauria, the team is sent out all over the Hudson Valley area.
Its dive team was the first on the scene in Yonkers when a tugboat hit a barge in the Hudson River. It’s also been called to Bear
Mountain Bridge, as well as Lake Carmel this past summer when an individual drowned.
“People don’t realize how complex we’ve grown since the town has grown. We’ve had to adapt to whatever problems can be faced in Yorktown,” Lauria said.
However, as the town has grown, so has the need for volunteers.
“It’s just getting motivated people that want to help, that want to do something a little bit different,” Lauria said. “They need us for them and we need each other; it’s neighbors helping neighbors.”
He also said that joining the engine company is easier than one might think and volunteers can start by walking in the door.
“It’s not as regimented as one would think. The whole application process takes three months,” Lauria said.
Applicants begin basic training and then are sent down to Valhalla to the Westchester County Fire Training Center and take a two-part course to earn State Firefighter Certification.
The process takes about 140 hours.
“You can kind of do it within your work schedule. Once you complete that, you are certified by New York State to go into fires and from there the requirements are pretty simple,” Lauria said. “We drill every single Monday night from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., so you have to make a couple drills a month and make a certain percentage of our call volume every year, in addition to other department events, and that’s what it entails to be an active member.”
Even high school students can join the Junior Corps, which begins at age 15.
Training takes place on Wednesday nights, where junior members complete different firefighter tasks. Once members reach 18 years old, they can take classes like their senior counterparts and begin going into fires after certification.
According to the members, being a firefighter at Engine Company 1 is nothing short of life-changing.
Firefighter Alexis Spiconardi said that while she was at school, she decided there was something more that she wanted to do and walked in the door to the fire department and applied.
“I absolutely love it. I do want to make a career out of firefighting now because of this,” Spiconardi said.
It’s the sense of helping the community that drives the volunteer firefighters to action.
According to firefighter Steve Fitzsimmons, even with all that goes on in someone’s life, it motivates you to make the time to help.
“When you’re at home, you’re on call and the alarm goes off. You want to be here because you know someone in your surrounding community needs help,” Fitzsimmons said.
Lauria said you become not just a firefighter, but a problem-solver as well.
“A lot of guys here come from different backgrounds, which actually lends itself to us. Some guys are electricians, some are mechanics, some are a mix of blue collar and white collar. Their backgrounds blend when they come in and put gear on because suddenly now they are all firemen. So when they go to an emergency, some people may not have what you’d consider a true emergency, but today no one knows what to do so they just call 9-1-1. So you now have to figure out what is wrong with Mrs.
Smith’s stove, what’s wrong with Mr. Jones’s ventilation or his chimney. It’s just problem-solving,” Lauria said. “Going through a lot of the training and everything kind of branches of. You learn how to fix different things on your own. Different skill sets that you may have never known you had or may have never known you needed and all of a sudden you have that skill set. Or let’s say now you need help at your house with something–there’s 50 members who do different things in their own life. You need an electrician, there’s one upstairs.”
Another thing gained by joining Engine Company 1 is a sense of family.
Moseman said that he still has friendships he formed more than 50 years ago.
“It’s really like a second family,” Lauria said.
With the firehouse located smack-dab in the center of town, Luria compares it to being the “heartbeat of Yorktown” and with its involvement in the many community events and parades the town hosts, it keeps the lifeblood of the community beating.
For those interested in information about joining visit https://www.yorktownfire.org/