By Myriam Jean
Veteran firefighter Timothy Poskitt describes his work as merely “a hobby, something to do.” But his hobby could save other lives, or cost him his own.
One Saturday night, Poskitt a firefighter at Preakness Volunteer Fire Company in Wayne, New Jersey approached a car trapped in one of the town’s notorious flash floods. Before his work was done, he rescued a family of four, plus their dog.
“We’re all volunteers here,” said Poskitt, a volunteer for more than 25 years. “None of us are career in this firehouse or paid, so it was more of being curious to see what it’s about.”
The fire house is based a block off the William Paterson University campus at Ratzer Road and Birch Lane. Here, in the university’s shadow, firefighters are always on call. One day someone’s house may be on fire and the next there could be a 100-pound propane tank floating down the river.
Though an important part of the community, the fire company faces a new challenge: recruiting volunteers like Poskitt. Many people express interest in joining but say they do not have the time or can’t afford to volunteer. Many who think about volunteering are in school, working, or both.
“Volunteerism is down over the years,” Poskitt said. “You know, personal working conditions. People have two or three jobs.”
That is not to say the younger generation is completely disinterested in the profession. Poskitt’s son occasionally comes to visit.
“My 12-year-old loves it,” Poskitt said. “He’s always up here with me. He gets excited when I drive the truck. He puts my gear on once in a while.”
As Poskitt talked about the need for new volunteers, a man pulled up on a red motorcycle and parked right next to the fire truck.
“That’s the ex-chief!” Poskitt yelled excitedly.
The man was Sherwood Harvey, a lifelong resident of Wayne and volunteer firefighter for 26 years. His advice for finding potential firefighters is to “find a guy with experience and latch onto him.” Then he grinned and looked to his right. “That’s what Michael did,” said Harvey.
Michael Turner stood smiling nearby, wearing a black T-shirt with the words “Xtreme Valor” written across it. Turner, a 21-year-old, started volunteering at age 15 and plans to make firefighting a career. He wants to work in Paterson, New Jersey one day but will continue to volunteer in Wayne since firefighters can only volunteer in the city live in.
“How does it feel? It’s a privilege,” Turner said, sitting on the edge of a firetruck. “Something I’ve wanted to do my whole life cause, of course, my family was in it. My father, my great-grandfather, my grandfather, and my sister and brother were firefighters, so it’s an honor. You don’t take it as you’re a hero. You’re just trying to help people and have fun at the same time, because it’s a good time working with these guys. It’s like a brotherhood.”
Turner is soft-spoken, but the passion in his voice is prominent.
Harvey and Poskitt recount watching Turner grow up and joke about changing his diaper. As Turner talks about how long he has known Harvey and Poskitt, he slips up and calls them old. At Preakness fire company, the word old is equivalent to an expletive. Sherwood jokingly interjects to say that he and Poskitt are not old, instead they have just been volunteering for a long time.
With time comes colorful stories. But Harvey wouldn’t share his.
“What happens in the firehouse stays in the firehouse!” said all three men in unison.