Experienced firefighters often take the most pride in their "good stops," the small fires that get put out before they ever get big enough to make the news.

For Saltaire firefighter Elizabeth Kelly, tamping down a smoldering patch of dune grass counts as a good stop. She has seen what ocean breezes can do with a stray spark in this Fire Island tinderbox of wood-shingled houses, dry brush and brittle boardwalk.

Fires are few, and so are the volunteers in her summer community of 400 homes, whose owners may occupy them just a few weeks each year as a refuge from the workaday world.

For Kelly, a Pace University administrator who grew up spending every summer on the barrier island and worked as a lifeguard in her younger years, volunteering with the fire department has been a natural part of hometown life.

It comes with the annual hose test on the boardwalk, equipment drills on the pumper and stints at the dispatch console. There's also the annual parade, the centerpiece of the community's summer, and silly competitions like the races to put on fire gear, which she won two years in a row once.

Many of her springtime afternoons were spent inspecting homes, reminding residents to put in smoke detectors and to clear dry brush from a three-foot radius of their homes, though that job is now assigned to a village fire marshal.

And, of course, there are the emergencies. There were just 64 of them last year, but since they tend to be squeezed into a handful of summer weekends and must be handled among just 28 volunteers, fire duty has a way of dominating her time on the island.

"You get the same five or six people who do a lot of work, who get everything done and get frustrated by it ... " Kelly, 40, said. "It's a constant love-hate thing; it's really a small thing, and everyone's either a neighbor or a brother or a sister or a former baby-sitter. We all really know each other.

"When there's an emergency, things are great. But the requirements for training and for putting in your time can start to wear on people."

So can the workload on what should be the most idyllic summer weekends, when short-term renters slam a shoulder in a wave or get too much sun and don't understand that the people surrendering an entire afternoon to drive them off the island do it for free.

"My use of that island as a leisurely place, I recognize that's changed," said Kelly, whose year-round home is in Brooklyn. "My family says, 'We never see you!' "

But there are pleasures, too, in the routines of membership, like helping run the annual Labor Day pancake breakfast, when the modest firehouse opens its doors to the community. Or stopping by now and then at Saltaire's firehouse to tidy up, have a beer and chew the fat with some of the no-nonsense older firemen who started the department and have steadied it through many changes.

Saltaire's volunteers held a cocktail party last spring to attract new members. That may be what brought in three new women to volunteer as emergency medical technicians -- the department is now allowing recruits to skip the fire side of the training that Kelly had to master to join. And this year, neighboring Fair Harbor added some new medical volunteers, too. She's seen volunteers come and go, but this summer, the first one in a long time, didn't come with such a burnt-out feeling.

"It's nice to have those new women around," she said. "I'm hopeful."

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