HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – A new book written by a Hastings-on-Hudson man, “Local Heroes: Portraits of American Volunteer Firefighters,” looks at what can be learned from viewing America through the eyes of volunteer firefighters.
“I always thought that although volunteer firefighting is thought of as this relic of a lost America, a kind of time when neighbors cared about each other, it’s still really vibrant,” said Marek Fuchs, author of the book.
More than 75 percent of firefighters across the country are volunteers, and half of all line-of-duty firefighting deaths are among volunteers, said Fuchs, who has been a volunteer firefighter in Hastings for eight years.
In addition to fighting fires and writing books, Fuchs is a college professor and has been a columnist for various media, including The New York Times and The Daily Voice, where he wrote the Suburban Dad column.
Fuchs set out on his journey with photographer and fellow Hastings resident Ian Spanier, looking for the most interesting volunteer fire companies across the country. They ended up seeing America through the lens of volunteer firefighting, he said. Fuchs said he found that widespread issues experienced by all Americans are also represented in volunteer firefighting companies.
Racial tension was at the forefront of a fire company in the poorest county in Georgia, where 90 percent of the population is black. Until 15 years ago, the Fire Department was all-white, Fuchs said, and now the company is adjusting to its first black fire chief.
“It’s the story of race relations and integration,” Fuchs said.
Along with race, sacrifice was another theme Fuchs witnessed.
Sunshine, Colo., has suffered through some of the worst wildfires in American history. Fuchs talked to firefighters there who described battling 50-foot walls of fire to save their neighbors’ houses while watching their own homes burn to the ground.
Fuchs also looked at his own volunteer firefighting company in Hastings, which reflects the village’s eclectic mix of residents. The Hastings firehouse has volunteers from all walks of life, including a high school janitor, a stonemason, an entertainment lawyer and an Emmy winner, Fuchs said.
No matter what background people come from, there are two ways they become firefighters, Fuchs said.
“I think that a lot of people know from birth it’s something they want to do,” Fuchs said. “There’s also this element of serendipity when somebody just happens to pass by the firehouse one day and gets involved. Those two story lines – those born into it, where firefighting is bred into their bones, and the accidental firefighter – each has equal joy for it.”
Fuchs’ book is available for pre-sale purchase on Amazon and will be sold in Barnes and Noble and other bookstores next week.