In contrast to the five boroughs, most of the emergency needs in West Hempstead are handled by volunteers, highly trained and dedicated, but unpaid, members of the community. This past Sunday, the Chabad of West Hempstead hosted an event at Echo Park to thank members of the local Hatzalah, Community Security Service, fire departments, and police.
“There are not enough opportunities to thank the people who look out for us, and it coincides with the weekend of Thanksgiving,” said Rabbi Yossi Lieberman, the Chabad shliach to West Hempstead, who organized the event with his wife Chaya Rochel and their children.
Among the volunteers is David Awerbuch, who has been a volunteer at the Lakeview Fire Department for 33 years. The organization was founded in 1909, serving the communities of Lakeview and the southern half of West Hempstead. “Since I’ve joined, there has been more training, especially in the medical field. The equipment has become bigger and heavier,” he said. “Fires have come less frequently because people have alarms, but they have also become more intense because of the petroleum-based materials in homes.”
Alongside his duties at the fire department, Awerbuch is a member of Community Security Service, or CSS – a national organization of volunteers that provides security at synagogues and Jewish events.
Frank Senti, the Commissioner of the Lakeview Fire Department, noted that his fire department usually responds to a call within four minutes. It counts nearly 50 uniformed members and nine vehicles, which includes four fire trucks and two ambulances. Describing how he has time for responding to emergency calls, the 50-year veteran said that his service began as a hobby, his work for the county was close to home, and now he is retired.
Arthur Marks joined the fire department 12 years ago, after settling in West Hempstead. “I was inspired by my brother, who was an EMT. It was the way that he helped people. I would not be able to do it without the support of my family.”
The local Hatzalah is a chapter in the larger Hatzalah of the Rockaways and Nassau County, which covers a sizable area from Belle Harbor, Far Rockaway, the Five Towns, and West Hempstead. “I have been a member since 2001 and helped to bring it to this community. Our chapter has about 20 EMTs and five paramedics,” said Benjamin Diamond. “We receive nearly 500 calls a year.” Its members receive monthly training relating to their work.
“Most of the training is in-house, along with the county fire academy,” said Chaim Taub, who volunteers at the West Hempstead Fire Department. “I’ve been a member for five years.” Along with his training in medical and fire emergencies, he is also involved in Chaverim of the Five Towns and Rockaways, which responds to car-related problems.
Christian Baez, a lieutenant at the Lakeview Fire Department, said that the multiple alarm categories are defined by the severity of an emergency. A one-alarm fire can be contained by his department, while those with multiple alarms involve neighboring volunteer fire companies. “It depends on the intensity of the fire and the available manpower. We have 40 members, and it is tough. We need more volunteers, but many people are working multiple jobs and do not have time for it.”
Yulia Dykman Hill, wife of Queens Jewish Link columnist Moshe Hill, certainly has time to respond to calls. “I’m a stay-at-home mom, and I love getting out of the house.” For newcomers to West Hempstead, the roar of the fire alarm reverberating across the neighborhood resembles an air-raid siren, and seems antiquated in this age, but Hill says that it has a purpose.
“I receive them from a pager and my phone, but we also hear the alarm. When people hear it, they should know that there are emergency vehicles coming.”
The event was also attended by members of the Nassau County Police Department. Children of volunteers received presents from the Chabad of West Hempstead, while their parents received awards. For the public, it was an opportunity to meet neighbors who volunteer to save lives, climb into an ambulance and a fire engine, and appreciate their work.
By Sergey Kadinsky