Volunteer fire houses on LI struggle to carry load

January 21, 2010 3:18:10 PM PST
It's becoming harder and harder to staff the volunteer-dependent firehouses on Long Island. So what are the challenges facing these communities, and what is being done to keep you safe? It was a dramatic end to a long and cold day when Nassau County volunteers hoisted a worker out of a trench after he spent hours trapped more than 30 feet underground.

"We realized what we had, we realized we couldn't handle it ourselves," Roslyn fire chief Salvatore Mirra said.

Mirra will never forget that call. For hours, his firefighters and volunteers from more than a dozen other departments struggled to dig the man out, only to have the hole fill right back up with dirt, over and over again.

"You think you're getting somewhere when all of a sudden a bunch of dirt comes from the walls and caves in and buries him exactly back to square one," he said. "Something of this magnitude hasn't happened for 20 years."

Specialized rescue squads require expensive certification and equipment, normally much more than a small volunteer squad can handle.

But in the wake of that trench rescue, the Roslyn and Roslyn Highlands departments are teaming up to make a change.

This week, volunteers sat through the first of a series of new training sessions aimed at making them more seasoned rescuers, like the highly-trained, full-time team they wound up calling in from the FDNY, who helped bring a relieving end to that frustrating call.

"If you ask the man that was trapped in the trench in Roslyn if that operation was a success, I'm sure he would tell you it was a phenomenal success," Nassau chief fire marshal Vincent McManus said. "And it was because he's alive. The fire service is a little more hard on themselves."

"The chances of us having another one in the very near future is very few," Roslyn Highlands fire chief Jeff Laureano said. "But we're in the what-if business and we have to be prepared...if something does happen.

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