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No pay, occasional danger, long hours…big rewards
(If interested, contact your local volunteer fire department)

by Dean Pappas '85

This story is dedicated to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice to save others in the September 11, 2001 attack on America. Your commitment and dedication will long outlive the destruction wrought by cowardly terrorist acts. You have proven beyond all else the indomitable strength of the human spirit. Your legacy endures for all eternity.

In memory of all.
God Bless America.


It was one of those freezing cold February nights when all you want to do is crawl under the covers and stay warm. Such was my ambitious plan on a Friday night, following a lengthy day in the classroom trying to teach a bunch of hormonally charged seventh and eighth graders. My plan was actually working out quite well until . . .

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The piercing tones of the fire department pager cut through my deep sleep like a knife through melted butter. My eyes snapped open, focusing immediately on the large red LED numbers of my alarm clock. “What could possibly be burning at… 2:42 a.m. in the middle of a sleet storm…?” ran through my foggy mind as I struggled to throw off the covers and find my way out of the bedroom.

At the same time, I grabbed the pager and attempted to muffle the sound somewhat under a pillow. My wife, Alexandra, was awakened by the (darn) pager, but her response, after almost nine years of marriage, is a muttered “be careful” before she rolls over and goes back to sleep. Fortunately, our one-year-old daughter, Eleni, and our four-year-old son, Billy, usually sleep through these nocturnal alarms.

rescue truck“60 Control to Katonah, report of burning wires on the roof of a house . . .” the disembodied voice of the fire dispatcher in Valhalla, N.Y. announced a typical alarm brought on by sleet storms—ice builds up on utility wires, which bend and eventually snap under the weight. The dispatcher gave the address and, just to make sure no one remained asleep, toned out the alarm again. By this time, I had managed to get to the basement, throw on a jacket, and rush out into a winter wonderland. Quickly scraping the buildup of ice on my windshield, I started my reluctant truck and drove the half mile to fire headquarters.

The three bay doors of fire headquarters were already opening as a group of sleepy firefighters came in and quickly dressed in heavy bunker gear under the harsh glare of fluorescent lights and the mournful sound of our fire horn blasting out the alarm for all of Katonah to hear. Someone scrawled the type of alarm and its location on the blackboard at the front of the firehouse, and one of the older volunteers was already heading toward the radio room to handle communications.

Climbing into our attack pumper (which has an enclosed cab so we don’t freeze on the way over), we headed to the scene. Fortunately, the wires hadn’t burned through the roof and started a major fire. New York State Electric and Gas was able to shut down the grid in the area and our task was to make sure the family and their home were safe. It was then back to headquarters and finally (at 4:15 a.m.) back to bed. I hit the pillow with the comforting thought that I would be getting up in about an hour to get ready for work.

reporter contents :: albright college