The men and women of Arlington Fire Department are no strangers to Vassar College. Almost every weekend and quite often during the week, they are the people that can be seen on campus protecting it from the threat of fire . While students are out at Friday-night parties or events the Arlington firefighters are probably on their way to a dorm, called to duty by a fire alarm or an EMS call. The Arlington firefighters have reached out to Vassar through Twitter in hopes of building greater camaraderie with the student body. . “The Arlington Fire Department is a great asset to our campus,” said Kate Pula ‘15, captain of Vassar’s EMS unit.
Arlington Professional Firefighters Local 2393 is the local union of firefighters that serves Arlington and the parts of Poughkeepsie surrounding Vassar. Local 2393 serves a district that is roughly 22 square miles large and populated by over 33,000 people.
The unit is comprised of 74 career staff members, including professional firefighters, paramedics and EMTs. In the words of Justin Carlon, a firefighter with the unit, Local 2393 is an “all-hazards fire department.”
Not only is Local 2393 responsible for fighting the fires that occur within its district, but it also provides Emergency Medical Services, Rescue and first-responder services to the district, as well as responding to all car accidents.
Last year, Local 2393 received over 5,200 calls, according to their official records. Of those 5,200, around 400 of them were from Vassar alone. The majority of their calls are caused by smokers or by steam from showers, yet the unit fought a total of 134 very real fires across their district in 2013.
According to Carlon, once a report or call has been received by the station, it only takes between two and four minutes for firefighters and EMTs to be dispatched and arrive at Vassar.
This quick response time has been crucial to stopping fires before they spread and reaching students who are in need of medical aid. “Eighty-four percent of the time fires are food-related,” Carlon said, “But responding quickly prevents damage from occurring.”
In the past week alone, Local 2393 has been called to Vassar on four separate occasions. “We’re here quite a bit,” Carlon laughed.
In addition to his work as a firefighter, Carlon also handles Local 2393’s public relations and social media outreach. Much of his work involves maintaining the unit’s Twitter account, which is updated every time firefighters are dispatched.
“We’re not just ‘the fire department,’ we’re part of the community as well,” he stated. “I and a lot of the other firefighters live locally and we understand how great an impact the College has on the community.”
Carlon hopes his department will begin to run events at Vassar that could range from CPR Certification classes to talks on fire safety and prevention. “We as a union would like to get more involved with the student body,” he said.
Carlon also wanted students to be aware of potential new policies that could drastically affect campus safety. Vassar is tax-exempt as a school, which means that it does not receive a bill whenever Local 2393 responds to a call on campus.
This is great for students, who don’t have to fear being charged a great deal of money for requiring medical attention. However, recently, several of the commissioners that oversee the Arlington Fire District have been considering hiring ambulances from private commercial companies rather than continue to fund Local 2393’s. These private companies would charge a fee whenever one of their ambulances was dispatched to campus.
Not only would contracting out the ambulances be very expensive, he believes there are other worrying implications. With Local 2393’s ambulances a mere five minutes away on a bad day, getting to campus is rarely an issue.
However, the commercial ambulances the commissioners are considering contracting could be based 30 to 45 minutes away from campus. In serious life-or-death situations, Carlon pointed out, a half-hour or more is far too long to wait for EMT’s and paramedics to arrive and administer care. “I really think it would drastically affect the safety of the College,” He stated. Additionally, the new EMTs would lack any familiarity with Vassar.
“We know the college really well,” Carlon said, “We know the community, the culture, the campus layout.” The commercial EMTs would not have this familiarity that members of Local 2393 have gained after years of protecting Vassar.
Carlon continued, “If we get a call saying someone passed out in the Mug, everyone knows exactly where to go to get to them because we’ve been there so many times. The new EMTs wouldn’t have that familiarity and that could be dangerous.”
Carlon and his unit believe that it is in the best interests of all that they continue to serve Vassar rather than the outside EMTs. “We [Local 2393] provide some of the best service in the state, and we want to maintain that.” he said.
As residents of Poughkeepsie, Vassar students are eligible to vote in the upcoming elections when the fire commissioners are up for reelection in December.
Meetings of the current board are held every first and third Monday at 7 p.m. of each month at Local 2393’s headquarters on Burnett Blvd, and Carlon encouraged students to attend and listen in on the proceedings.
Even if the ambulances are contracted out, Local 2393 will continue to serve Vassar and its environs in all their other capacities. To do that to the best of their ability, Carlon believes it is important to build more connections between Vassar and Local 2393; particularly between the student body and the firefighters.
He said, “Keeping Vassar College safe keeps our community safe. And that’s what we want to do.”