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'Local Heroes' author Marek Fuchs on volunteer firefighters and Hurricane Sandy
After Hurricane Sandy, many of us have a greater appreciation for volunteer firefighters, men and women of diverse ages and backgrounds who serve their communities, often risking their own lives to do so.
Marek Fuchs, a Hastings resident and journalist who is on the writing faculty at Sarah Lawrence College, teamed up with with another Hastings resident, photographer Ian Spanier, to spotlight volunteer firehouses across the country. The result was “Local Heroes: Portraits of American Volunteer Firefighters” (Schiffer Publishing), a book of stories and portraits that was released Oct. 28.
Hudson Buzz asked Fuchs via email about his new book, his own volunteer firefighting experience and the significance of “local heroes” post-Hurricane Sandy.
How did the idea for this book come about?
Ian Spanier, a well-known photographer who grew up in Hastings, came to our firehouse to take photos for a smaller project. We got to talking and realized there was a big story to be told.
If we traveled around the country to the most interesting volunteer firehouses across the country, we could tell the story of volunteer firefighting, which many assume is a relic of our nation’s past, but is actually quite vibrant, [and] the center of many communities. You can see America through the eyes of volunteer firefighters.
Are there any firefighters or firehouses from Hastings or the Hudson Valley featured in the book?
Yes, we chronicled The Riverview Manor Firehouse in Hastings. Though society can be … split into silos based on wealth and schooling, volunteer firehouses tend to be composed from people from different walks of life. Janitors, college kids and lawn care workers share hose lines with white shoe lawyers and big time executives, linked by an interest in firefighting and a responsibility to serve. The Hastings firehouse, with its mix of artists, tradesmen and businesspeople stands as a particularly interesting case.
Is there a particular firefighter or firehouse profiled in the book that stands out?
I loved the house in Sparta, Ga., which is in the poorest county in Georgia. Though the county it serves is 90 percent black, until 15 years ago the firehouse was entirely white. Now there is a black chief. We tried to tell stories of America through the lens of these firehouses and this is the story of racial integration, long overdue.
As a volunteer firefighter, did you participate in any of the Hurricane Sandy relief efforts?
Yes, we were out on our rounds the night Sandy hit, and for the better part of the week that followed, responding to everything from downed wires to transformer fires, car accidents, floods and more. Much more. When we were done with all that, we collected food and clothes for Staten Island.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, this book is especially relevant. What do you hope readers will take away from it?
In many ways, we live in a rushed age and too often when people pause, it is merely to contemplate their own lives. It’s worth remembering, though, that there are also plenty out there across America, who give every last spare moment to the service of neighbors – and even those they don’t know. American society is filled with sad stories. This isn’t one of them.
For more info on "Local Heroes," visit www.schifferbooks.com.
Photo: A portrait of a volunteer firefighter from the book, "Local Heroes: Portraits of American Volunteer Firefighters."