Looking to jump start your New Year’s resolution to give back to your community? Volunteer with the Croton Falls Fire Department
When Sean Partenio signed up to volunteer with the Croton Falls Fire Department (CFFD) in 2007, he had no idea how much of an impact this single action would have on his life. Now, after almost fifteen years of service, he is the chief of the department and has been for the last two years. The CFFD’s recruitment and retention committee is currently in full swing, and Partenio is eager to recruit more volunteers for what he says has been a very rewarding and life-changing experience.
The CFFD was established in 1892 and, during its 130 years in existence, it has always been fully staffed by volunteers. While this may strike those who are city transplants as unique, most of rural Westchester fire departments are volunteer-based (with the exception of larger cities like White Plains, etc.). “In rural areas like ours, the cost would be staggering to hire firefighters,” Partenio said. “Some days we get zero calls; some days we get ten.” So instead, residents pay a minimal fire tax yearly for the CFFD to cover the costs of apparatus, equipment, training, firehouses, and other necessary items.
The CFFD maintains two fire houses, one on either side of town: one at 301 Titicus Road and one at 1 Sun Valley Drive. The department’s coverage area includes Croton Falls, Purdys, North Salem and parts of Carmel and Southeast. On average, the town of Croton Falls alone has a call volume of almost 650 a year, with less than 20 fires a year.
Currently, there are approximately 100 members; of those approximately 35-40 are active members. Twenty members responded to 100 or more calls in 2021. “The members are a huge mix from every walk of life…from Heritage Fuel employees to highway department employees to attorneys,” Partenio said. “Everyone is respected and welcome.”
So who is eligible to volunteer? The CFFD welcomes men and women ages 16 and over-students can volunteer as well. And there is no age ceiling. “Two of the most active firefighters in the Department are 68 years old, with 50 years of service each,” Partenio said. “Both joined at 18 years old.”
Partenio recognizes that the thought of encountering fires or other emergency situations can seem daunting to the average person; however, he has utmost confidence in the fire fighter training program. “Westchester County offers incredible training, and it will give you the skills that you need,” Partenio said. “It’s then just a matter of whether you have the drive to complete it.” Partenio is keen to point out that there are active firemen who are attorneys, construction workers, etc. who had no experience prior to joining CFFD.
Training (which is state mandated) in the beginning can be intimidating. The hours vary depending on the level chosen, but it can take up to 200 hours of training to become a firefighter who has clearance to walk into a burning building. To be a volunteer limited to exterior operations like driving, responding to car accidents and storm calls, fewer training hours are required. Training consists of classroom, textbooks, lectures, and some hands-on field training.
So what does the commitment look like once training is completed? At a minimum, all CFFD members are expected to attend a meeting or drill every Monday night for approximately 2-3 hours. “Other than that, it’s totally up to you how involved you want to be,” Partenio said. “Some volunteers answer 20 calls, some answer 100-plus calls.” In the CFFD, fire houses are never staffed. When there’s an emergency in town, firefighters are dispatched by a County-run dispatch center and most firefighters have a smartphone. Any volunteer is free to take any call and can do so via an app.
According to Partenio, his experience as a CFFD volunteer has enriched his life in so many ways. One of the most amazing parts of his journey has been the level of self-discovery. “You really find out what you’re capable of when you get tested,” Partenio said. Another rewarding part of his experience has been the connections he has made. “Some of my best friends I met in the fire house,” Partenio said. “The Fire Department is like an extended family. It is such an incredible group of people who want to give back to the community and do the right thing.”
The best part of the whole gig, according to Partenio, is the “giving back aspect of it all.” “I’m fortunate and grateful for what I have, and I want to give back to the community,” Partenio said.
According to Partenio, volunteers are the backbone of the CFFD and essential for the CFFD to safely and efficiently serve Croton Falls and the surrounding towns. He hopes to see an increase in volunteer firefighters from the community.
Those interested in volunteering with the CFFD can contact Sean Partenio at firstname.lastname@example.org.