The Great Neck Alert Junior Firefighters were honored Saturday as the youth group of the year by the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York from among hundreds statewide.
It’s the first time the organization has won the award and the first time in its nearly 40-year history that the group is led entirely by girls, according to Great Neck Alert chief James Neubert.
“The girls are just as active and physically capable,” Neubert said. “They do all the same things that the guys do.”
The 30-member group is made up of students 12 to 17 years old. They meet twice a month for training sessions and help the department host fire prevention seminars and organize other community events.
About 40 percent of current Great Neck Alert firefighters started in the junior program.
“The Great Neck Alert Junior Firefighters are an outstanding example of fire service youth groups and embodies the qualities inherent to the fire service,” FASNY president Steven Klein said in a statement. “They should be proud to receive this award and serve as a model for similar programs across the state of New York.”
The youth group started in 1982 when the membership was all male and remained that way until the mid-'90s, Neubert said. More girls slowly began to join and now about half of the junior firefighters are female.
In December, the organization held elections to choose its new leadership and for the first time all five positions were filled by girls.
“It’s so cool. I never thought this was going to happen,” said Julia Motchkavitz, junior firefighters captain.
Motchkavitz, 16, comes from a family of firefighters; her brother and father were both captains of the youth group and her uncle George Motchkavitz helps coordinate the junior program. She said her cabinet is hoping to make meetings more interesting for members and to improve in drill competitions. They are also looking into buying girls uniforms for the group, Motchkavitz said.
George Motchkavitz, a 48-year member of the department, said the all-girls slate has been more organized and proactive than previous groups, and will consistently come to him with ideas for training exercises they would like to try.
“The girls definitely run things a little differently, in a good way,” Neubert said.
Maya Garfinkel, junior firefighter first lieutenant, said she thinks female membership will continue to increase, especially now since they have taken over.
“It was a little intimidating because the seniors are mostly men and they call themselves a brotherhood,” Garfinkel said. “They are very accepting of us, and when I’m there, instead of a brotherhood, it really feels like a community.”