They run into burning buildings without thinking twice and face death while fighting off flames to protect lives, property and their communities—and they don’t even get paid.
The plight of the volunteer firefighter is a lesser-known American story that Hastings-on-Hudson resident Marek Fuchs—a journalist, professor and volunteer firefighter with the Riverview Manor Hose Co. 3 in Hastings-on-Hudson—just had to tell.
“There are a lot of assumptions made about firefighters that aren’t necessarily true,” said Fuchs, a 12-year resident who lives in the village with his wife and three children. “The story of the volunteer firefighter across America is really an untold story.”
With a job that can require jumping out of bed in the middle of the night to respond to car accidents, floods or wildfires—Fuchs, 45, hopes to shed light on the scale of a firefighter’s job in his latest book “Local Heroes: Portraits of American Volunteer Firefighters.”
According to Fuchs, 75 percent of the country’s firefighters are volunteers, while 50 percent of those who die from in the line of duty deaths are volunteer firefighters. Fuchs’ book, examines the truths about volunteer firefighters through the stories of four fire departments across the country, including Hastings-on-Hudson’s Riverview Manor Hose Co. 3.
“There are such commonalities in terms of the firehouse being the center piece of a community in some way shape or form,” said Fuchs, a professor at Sarah Lawrence College who spent six years writing the “County Lines” column for The New York Times. “It kind of restores your faith in humanity that such different places have and things in common. Everything from big personalities attracted to the firehouse, to the way these kinds of big hearts are harnessed, the adrenaline junkies and the way the firehouse would be a place where the community comes together a lot.”
So far, the book has received rave reviews. Parade magazine calls the book "riveting," ABC News credits Fuchs' "lively text" and The Daily Mail (UK) calls the portraits in the book—taken by award winning photographer Ian Spanier, a former Hastings-on-Hudson resident who has shot photos of celebrities, athletes and other memorable people—"quietly dignified."
Though the stories of the different departments are vastly different—Hastings-on-Hudson’s 100-year-old firehouse, a Southern fire department in one of America’s poorest counties, a firehouse that battled one of the worse wildfire’s in Colorado’s history and a department in California with only nine members under the age of 53—they share the bond of volunteers who sacrifice to serve the greater good.
“It’s a nice story to tell and a nice story to hear,” said Fuchs. “Sometimes you look around you and there’s so many sad stories out there. It’s sometimes important to be reminded that it’s not all sad stories.”