Nysha Recent News

Stoking Adventure, Devoted Hamaspik DSPs Score High in the “Fire Dept.” Department

Visits to Fire Trucks both Recreational and Functional All Part of Hamaspik’s Daily Care

July 23, 2015

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

Despite Hamaspik’s superlative track record of fire safety, the agency’s Rockland County residential programs pull no punches when it comes to fire-related adventure—of the fire-fighting variety, that is.

The Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who staff his home are constantly seeking ways to make daily life exciting and fun, says Joel Schnitzer, who manages Hamaspik of Rockland County’s Grandview Briderheim Individualized Residential Alternative (IRA).

Even the morning routines of dressing and feeding can be discharged with a certain zest and energy, he explains—something that not only his staff exhibit, but staff across Hamaspik too.

It’s what’s defined the agency for decades. And this past month, two Hamaspik of Rockland County group homes got to play firefighter— one fantastical, and the other as close as possible to actual.

*

Elimelech “Meilich” Friedman, a DSP at Grandview for several years now, also doubles as a volunteer with his native Kiryas Joel Fire Department (KJFD).

The only Chasidic or otherwise Orthodox firefighting body in the world (at least that the Gazette knows of), KJFD forms Dept. 59 of upstate New York’s Orange County firefighting hierarchy.

As one of the nine fire units comprising Orange County’s Battalion 5, KJFD was founded in 2000 and today boasts six vehicles and over 50 professionally trained volunteers.

One of them is Meilich Friedman.

Mr. Friedman, like his Grandview and other Hamaspik counterparts, is always seeking novel ways to make the ordinary extraordinary.

Besides parlaying his fire-safety know-how into improved evacuations and other regulatory standards at Grandview, the idea hatched in Mr. Friedman’s head some two or three months ago to start bringing various Grandview residents to the station house.

The goal, of course, was to open their world to the extent possible and allow them to experience the sights and sounds of a real fire department, real firetrucks, real firemen and all.

This past June 25, Meilich Friedman loaded his charge Yitzchok K. into a minivan and headed for the Interstate 87 North— destination KJ. Some 35 minutes later, the car pulled into the spacious lot of the Kiryas Joel Fire Department.

*

Your typical young person loves few things more than a real working firetruck, especially when a real working firefighter is on hand to show him the ropes—and Yitzchok is no different.

Waiting for him at the station was no less than Fire Chief Joshua Blumenthal, a gentle giant of a man who’s headed the volunteer department since its inception.

Chief Blumenthal has known Yitzchok’s family, and Yitzchok, for years. And, as it turns out, Yitzchok’s visit of the day is hardly his first one. Thanks to his family’s friendship with the experienced firefighter, Yitzchok has been here before.

Today, though, is his first under the auspices of Hamaspik.

Firefighter Friedman has Yitzchok pose in front of KJFD’s several enormous rigs for a good few selfies.

One of the rigs, Truck 598, is a 1996 Pierce Lance/Bronto Skylift whose 135-foot aerial tower gives it Orange County’s farthest reach. On July 17, 2014, 598 and crew (and— do the math—deft use of a ten-foot ladder) roared some 20 miles northeast to Newburgh, where they plucked two stranded utility workers off a 140-foot lift whose boom had frozen at full height, ending a fivehour crisis.

Upstairs in the command center, which is also the radio base for the community’s effective Hatzoloh volunteer ambulance corps, Chief Blumenthal lets Yitzchok get on the radio’s Channel 2 non-emergency frequency and talk with the guys down in the trucks.

Needless to say, Yitzchok is utterly thrilled.

*

While few if any firefighters actually have intellectual disabilities, though some out there with the highest levels of function on the autism spectrum may serve with local departments, firefighters are virtually universally loved by people with disabilities.

One such gentleman is Tony Tumminello of Lansing, Michigan, who befriended the men at that town’s Fire Station One way back in 1953. He was 13.

Today, some 60 years later, Mr. Tumminello, who has intellectual disability, still hangs out at the station pretty much all the time, except when he gets in a few hours of gainful labor at a local flower shop. While he lives right down the block, Station One is his home. He’s been all but adopted by the guys, who treat him like family—down to doing his laundry, assisting him with personal hygiene and buying him new apparel when his socks and stuff wear out.

As for Yitzchok, his sartorial and culinary preferences are well responded to at Grandview. But whenever the hankering for feeling like a firefighter strikes, the young man has a friend or two up at KJFD.

*

A different sort of firetruck is the destination of the day for three adolescents with disabilities who call Hamaspik’s Arcadian Briderheim home.

It’s June 25, the same day Yitzchok and chaperone Friedman are visiting the Kiryas Joel Fire Department. Not too far from 8 Arcadian Drive in Wesley Hills is Sikorsky Park, a cozy nook of a public space for neighborhood kids named for Greg Sikorsky, a longtime local firefighter and fixture who fell with the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

Not surprisingly, the outdoor facility’s sandbox includes a stick-figure firetruck.

And today, Arcadian resident Pinchos and two others are sitting on its front-bench “driver’s seat,” enjoying a fine sunny day out in the park as their imaginations carry them off to fight fantastical fires.

Yitzchok, Pinchos and their peers may not become firefighters, even honorarily so. But whether at the Kiryas Joel Fire Department, the Grandview Briderheim or any Hamaspik support or service, they will always belong.