Volunteer name: Kenneth Flynn
Organization: New City Fire Department
At the age of 5, Kenneth Flynn moved from Queens, N.Y., to live in Ireland for a year. The initial plan for settling in Ireland, however, quickly changed and he found himself back in New York, where he ultimately settled in New City.
Flynn, now 40, works for a general contractor in New York City and volunteers for the New City Fire Department in his spare time. His sense of belonging is strong with the department, where he considers his peers to be a second family.
Why did you choose to volunteer?
I honestly can say I don't know. I was approached by a teacher, (who is a member and now an ex-chief of the department) when I was 16 and attending Clarkstown South High School. I had no prior history with the department— no family members or friends involved— so I really don't remember why I pursued it originally. I guess maybe at the time I thought it might have looked good for college, as I really didn't have any type of extra activity on my resume.
How did you get started?
As most do. An application is filled out, and you meet with the department's Investigating committee. As I was a minor, I remember my mother attending the meeting as well. I'm not sure if she really thought it was a good idea, but she let me join. After that meeting, you get voted in at a regular monthly fire company business meeting. After that comes the in-house training, the mandatory New York State training, and you go from there. As a fairly shy 16 year old kid, there were quite a few members that took me under their wing, showed me the ropes, and made coming into the department a pleasure. I'm now in my 24th year as a volunteer.
How do you make time to volunteer and do all the other things you have to do?
It's not easy. We run, on average, anywhere from 500-600 calls per year. Add to that the weekly drills, meetings, and other activities, and you can quickly become overwhelmed with the amount of time needed. I am married and have two children, now 17 and 13. Between work, my children's sports activities, and other family obligations, time for the department is often limited. I try to include my family in some of the activities we do, such as the fundraisers at the New City Festival, so that helps. I actually think I have it fairly easy compared to some of my other members. I've been involved since I was 16. My wife and kids have always known me as a fireman. They don't know any different life.
I have a tremendous respect for some of our members, and their families, that join later in life, and try to add this to their already busy lives. We all have missed dinners, parties, etc., as part of our commitment, but I think most of our families understand why we do this, and tolerate the absences. You really have to make a conscious decision that your family comes first, your job comes second, and the department comes third. If there is a baseball or softball game that my kids are playing in, and an event at the firehouse at the same time, I'm going to be at the game. For me, that's the way it has to be. However, as an assistant chief, I also feel the need to show up as often as I can, and try to lead by example. If I can be there, I'm there. I can't, in good conscience, ask my members to give time if I'm not willing to give as well. I'm by no means special. Most of our members have the same issues, and still come out to make calls, drills and meetings. We are, as well as the rest of the fire departments in Rockland County, an all volunteer force. I think many people that have moved into Rockland from other areas such as New York City, don't realize that.
Do you plan to make volunteering a part of your life in the future?
I plan to do this as long as I'm able, and as long as the volunteer fire service is viable in Rockland County. I have about three and a half years to go before I've completed my commitment as a chief officer, and I hope to go back to riding a rig when I'm just a "regular" fireman again. We have a lot of great young people coming into the department, and if they are able to remain in New City, buy a house, and raise their own families here, I'm really looking forward to seeing the direction they take the department in the coming years. The volunteer fire service has changed tremendously in my 24 years with the department. Most of my members work out of town now, in order to afford to live here. Some work two jobs to make ends meet. Many of our younger members leave for college, but still participate when they return home on breaks. We have a great cross section of people in the department: teachers, cops, career firefighters, lawyers, businessmen, college students, etc. The list goes on, but we all have the same goal. To come out when called, to help our neighbors as best as we can and hopefully, go home to our own families after the emergency is over.
Flynn mentioned how the volunteers at the New City fire department were like a second family to him, where "it's not just about going to fire calls, we go to each other's weddings, too." Likewise, his appreciation for being involved with helping people in the community is a big draw, having been to houses "to help friends" also deepened his appreciation for and connection with New City.
When asked to sum up his experiences with New City Fire Department in one sentence, he responded: "The overall experience with the department has been a very positive one and I would do it all again if asked to."