By Dave Krzeminski, Highland Hose Co. No. 1
When I was a child back in 1978, my grandparent’s house caught fire. The entire history of this side of the family was gone. Photographs, reel-to-reels, priceless items handed down and even the family bible were damaged beyond saving.
I walked through that house the following day as the carpenter was boarding it up. I was awestruck as to what I was witnessing. Nothing resembled that house anymore. It was charred from floor to ceiling and every inch of it was unrecognizable. It was something I never quite got over.
It never dawned on me that I would be a firefighter. On 9/11, after learning of those killed in the collapsed buildings, I knew I needed to do something. It came as a surprise to me that the
age limit for joining the career fire service was so young. Being as close to that limit as I was, it took the wind out of my sails.
A few years would pass before it re-entered my mind. I crossed paths with a firefighter and he asked if I would mind quoting some work at his firehouse. While there, I noticed no one was at the station so I asked why and he replied, “It’s unmanned, we’re volunteers.” Much to my amazement, this whole town of more than 40 square miles had been covered by an unpaid force.
I knew nothing at all in regard to the volunteer fire service and thought it was for re police involvement only. We talked about it for a while and I asked for an application. I’ve been actively involved in the Highland Fire District in Ulster County ever since. I’m a proud member of the Highland Hose Co. No. 1, Inc. and work with people I consider family.
I stand ready alongside members who have given as much as 40-plus years of their lives to this community and still get up in the middle of the night for calls.
Volunteer firefighters see their service as a privilege and devote their lives to this cause, even if that means giving up sleep, vacations, meals and holiday time with their families. And as a team, we all have our place in the department. It’s not for everyone, clearly. It is work and it does get frustrating at times, but at the end of the day, you’ve made a difference to someone. Someone you may never meet or even know you’ve helped.
In my first couple of months when I was asked to stand guard at a life member’s funeral, it was an honor to ride on the rear step as we drove his casket to the cemetery. I heard the tones go off for his last call and in that very moment, I knew I’d found my place.