Editorial: Join the dedicated few

To all the men and women who broke their backs throughout the day Monday and into the night battling wildfires that threatened to wreak havoc on Riverhead and its neighboring communities, thank you.

It’s remarkable that this massive fire was contained to some 1,100 acres when a 1995 blaze that sparked during similar conditions, though in late August, burned closer to 6,500. For a while there Monday afternoon, things looked quite scary as a pillar of thick smoke covered much of an otherwise blue sky and could be seen — and smelled — for miles and miles around.

Then the brave men and women, representing all of Suffolk County’s more than 100 volunteer departments — and about 20 from Nassau County — sprang into action.

Better coordination thanks to those famous Sunrise wildfires of almost 17 years ago and better communication technology thanks to the emergency response experiences of Sept. 11 may have played a role in knocking down this formidable fire, as elected leaders and fire officials have said. But it takes people to fight flames, no matter the trucks or the technology involved.

Much of the time, we have the luxury of taking our fire departments and ambulance corps for granted. They’re always here. We know their members as friends and neighbors. We see the flashing blue lights in the rearview as they race to a call. Unfortunately, the only time we actively applaud them is when they march in parades in their blue dress uniforms. It’s only during events like this week’s wildfires that we stop and remember the sacrifices of our volunteer firefighters and realize how greatly we appreciate their efforts. These are undoubtedly some of the most valuable people in any community. They risk their lives to protect ours — and our homes and businesses — and really, they ask little in return. Despite their admirable role in society, you’ll often find no humbler person in your neighborhood than the volunteer firefighter.

Still, this is a proud club. But it isn’t an exclusive club. You can join it. The local fire departments and ambulance corps are always in search of good men and women to augment their ranks. And with the extreme weather events the region has experienced in recent years, as well as the increase in accidents on our ever-busier roads, now more than ever we need a larger, stronger volunteer force to protect us all.

So pick up a phone and ask about becoming an emergency responder.