Lights, Sirens, Action!
By John McLoughlin
Alone in Jamaica Bay stood Broad Channel. With no bridges connecting it to either Rockaway or the mainland, Broad Channel was vulnerable. And with no city fire protection, locals knew it was time to take matters in their own hands. The year was 1905 and in response to a series of house fires a bucket brigade was formed. Led by Chief Edward H. Schleuter, this group of volunteer "firefighters" became the sole means of fire protection in Broad Channel. When a fire was discovered a bell rang throughout the community, the volunteers grabbed their leather buckets and responded to extinguish the blaze. Soon the bucket brigade developed into the Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department (BCVFD) and in 1917 the doors of the firehouse opened, which to this day still stands at Noel Road.
It wasn’t too long before the BCVFD was recognized as an important entity in the community. By 1956 the BCVFD incorporated their ambulance corp., providing first aid services. And in the 1960’s the City of New York stationed a fire company at the Broad Channel firehouse during the summer months. The BCVFD was growing in ways never imagined.
These days it’s clear how far the BCVFD has come. Chief Tim Keenan, 23, recently elected to his position, said the BCVFD has "upgraded services tremendously." In 1994 the ambulance corp. became New York State certified, requiring training and equipment standards to be met. All volunteers are state certified firefighters, having taken intensive courses in areas such as officer training, strategy and tactics, hazardous material, and propane emergency. With two fire engines, two ambulances, a water rescue team, and equipment ranging from the "jaws of life" to a cardiac defibrillator, the BCVFD takes the task of protecting the residents of Broad Channel seriously.
With more than 40 active members, the BCVFD keeps busy with approximately 700 calls a year, 400 of those being the need for an ambulance. Surprisingly, only about 10 fires are battled a year. Most of the calls are for car/jetski accidents, brush fires and car fires.
Besides being the heroes of Broad Channel, the volunteers spend many hours raising money to keep the firehouse alive and well. On Saturday, February 26 the BCVFD will host its annual Installation Dinner Dance, which raises funds through the sales of journal ads and tickets. Along with other fundraisers held on Halloween, Christmas and in the summer, every family in Broad Channel shows their support by donating at least $60 during a yearly drive. And this year the BCVFD will sponsor Mardi Gras over Memorial Day weekend. A successful fundraising event, the BCVFD is expecting to make this year 2000 celebration a special one. The BCVFD alternates sponsorship of Mardi Gras with the Broad Channel Athletic Club. Under "town rules," on an off year the non-sponsoring organization can’t do any fundraising between Memorial Day and Labor Day. That tends to be the most financially difficult months for the BCVFD.
Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and Councilman Al Stabile also provide grants to the BCVFD, which has an expense budget of approximately $80,000 a year. Insurance costs are a major expense, ranging between $20,000 and $25,000 a year.
But it’s not the money that keeps the doors open…it’s the volunteers. Volunteers, who come predominately from Broad Channel with about 30 percent from other areas, can join at 18. The youngest members are the Junior Fire Department, a chartered Boys Scouts of America post. Presently 15 members of the Junior Fire Department learn about firefighting and join drills, but they are not permitted to respond to actual calls. An incentive to join the Junior Fire Department is that members can join the BCVFD at 17 instead of 18 years of age.
The Boys Scouts recently recognized one such junior "fireman," Mike Benedetto, at a reception at Russo’s on the Bay. Benedetto performed the Heimlich Maneuver on another kid who was choking.
"We are very proud of our Junior Fire Department," said Chief Keenan. "A lot of parents thank us for having the program—it keeps their kids away from the bad crowd. It’s a great place for kids…away from crimes and drugs."
Keenan said the responsibility and self-discipline taught to the Junior Fire volunteers make them the "best members of our fire department when they become senior firefighters." He referred to them as the "best trained and most dedicated."
Praising the efforts of both junior and senior volunteers is easy for Chief Keenan, but the glimmer in his eye is evident when he talks about the future of the BCVFD. He hopes to increase membership to 75 volunteers and plans are underway for the construction of a new firehouse, slated to begin this spring, on Cross Bay Boulevard near the American Legion hall.
Keenan also hopes to see more of the volunteers become certified paramedics, but the year-long course is approximately $7,000 a person. Once the BCVFD has 10 paramedics, the ambulances would upgrade to Advanced Life Support Units, providing more comprehensive services to residents.
Continued support from the Broad Channel and Rockaway communities is needed. Keenan said day help at the firehouse, especially to man calls and take care of clerical matters, would be helpful. And to assist in the building of the new firehouse, donations are always accepted. Checks are payable to the BCVFD Building Fund and can be mailed to BCVFD, 15 Noel Road, Broad Channel, New York 11693. All donations are tax deductible.
The BCVFD has come a long way. But, whether it was a few volunteers with buckets or a firehouse with engines and ambulances, the efforts and goals remained the same—protecting and saving the lives of the residents of Broad Channel and the surrounding communities. And it is with this goal in mind that Chief Keenan and the volunteers of the Broad Channel Fire Department never hesitate to jump into their "suits" and take on another day…