Beyond the Uniform: A Volunteer Spotlight

left to right: Cory Writhmann, Will Buboltz, RJ Iseldyke and Ethan Smith

The New Paltz Fire Department (NPFD) has been described as a brotherhood of brave and courageous men. All of the volunteer members have full-time jobs, families and other aspects of life they must balance — and sometimes put aside — for the sake of a stranger’s wellbeing. 

“I have a passion for helping the community,” said NPFD volunteer Ethan Smith, third lieutenant. “I make time for this because it is something I care about.”

Smith transferred his junior year of college to SUNY New Paltz, where he found his inclination towards brotherhood and community service from being a brother of Pi Alpha Nu. He expressed interest in becoming a volunteer firefighter in high school, but his mother didn’t let him because of her concerns. After graduating in 2015, Smith, now 24-years-old, moved to New Paltz permanently and became a volunteer at NPFD. 

The NPFD used to have a cadet program where kids under 18 could volunteer at the department. The cadets wouldn’t be on call for legitimate emergencies, but had the opportunity to train with and observe the work of the volunteers. Due to liability issues however, the program ended in 1999. 

NPFD Captain Will Buboltz has been volunteering as a firefighter since the young age of 16. He began in his hometown of Modena before joining the NPFD. In addition to his work at the fire department, Buboltz is a 911 dispatcher in Kingston. At 24-years-old, Buboltz’s eight years of volunteering have afforded him the fraternal friendship that the NPFD breeds amongst its members. 

“If you run into a burning building with a guy you barely know — he will become one of your closest friends pretty soon after,” Buboltz said. “We jokingly like to say that we are a social club that also fights fires.” 

Buboltz and Smith represent the brave youth that dedicate their time and energy to volunteering as a firefighter. Although they admit the training is physically enduring and difficult, every aspect of volunteering allows them to reap moral rewards.

NPFD protects and serves five districts: the New York State Thruway, the college, the village, the town and other towns where they participate in mutual aid. According to Cory Wirthmann, Assistant NPFD Chief, the department is extremely resourceful with the equipment and finances it has. 

“There is a lot of mental stress that goes along with volunteering,” Wirthmann said. “With work, family and being on-call 24/7, not too many people can handle it.”

Although each volunteer is on-call 24/7, he or she can determine if they are able to drop what they are doing and go help out. 

“It is a lot to handle,,” Wirthmann said. “But it’s worth a try if you think you can make a difference.”

Wirthmann is a fifth generation firefighter who started when he was 17-years-old in high school. Wirthmann is  now 34-years-old, born and raised in New Paltz.

“I pretty much grew up in the firehouse,” Wirthmann said. “All the people who work here are the best people I know.” 

Unfortunately, the NPFD has been experiencing lower numbers of interested trainees, and at times, lack of retention of those potential volunteers. Wirthmann encourages students at the college and young townspeople to come and observe one training night at the firehouse to see if they may be interested. 

“If you have already thought about joining and considered it, you are already interested,” Wirthmann said. 

The NPFD wishes to inspire potential volunteers, and has their door open for training observation on Monday nights from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.