Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department Fighting A Different Kind of Fire—Low Recruitment

 Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department Fighting A Different Kind of Fire—Low Recruitment

By Kami-Leigh Agard

For 118 years, the Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department (BCVFD) has been the little engine that could, serving the 900-home Broad Channel community, an island accessible only by the Cross Bay Bridge, North Channel Bridge or boat, connecting the Rockaway peninsula to mainland Queens. However, according to Chief Emeritus Daniel McIntyre, with each decade, the BCVFD is direly facing challenges with recruiting new firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs)—as the number of active members, especially amongst the junior class, decreases.

The emergency phone line, (718) 474-8888, according to McIntyre, has been the same since the 1930s, when telephones were first placed in. Back then, a requirement of owning a home in the “Channel,” you had to be a member of the BCVFD. “You had to do a tour or fire watch because everybody in Broad Channel were the volunteers who would put fires out,” McIntyre said.

“Originally it was bucket brigades and then eventually, the old hand-pumpers. If there was a fire, every house on the corner end of the block would ring the fire bell, and then the next neighbor would ring, and the next, and so on. Then people would run and drag the hose, throw the hose into the bay, pump and then put the fire out,” McIntyre said.

From a 300-home community in the 1940s and ‘50s, the community grew, and according to McIntyre, joining the BCVFD was almost like a rite of passage growing up in Broad Channel.

“Up until the ‘70s, recruitment and membership wasn’t really a problem because joining the BCVFD was a generational thing. For example, my father was in the firehouse for a couple of years, and then I went in,” he said.

However, the 1980s started a downward trend in not just recruitment, but solid membership. “In the ‘80s, it got a little harder to keep membership in town, and it really wasn’t only our problem. Today, it’s a problem nationwide with the volunteer fire service and with all forms of volunteering now. It’s extremely hard to get people to volunteer, especially with younger people going to college, families in two-income homes and even just electronic media. Today, there are so many distractions that the love of volunteering is waning,” McIntyre said.

The Firefighters Association of New York estimates that there are 20,000 fewer volunteer firefighters now than there were 20 years ago. Calls are becoming increasingly more varied, as volunteers are called for medical emergencies, flooded basements, downed power lines, car accidents, as well as fires.

For over a century, Broad Channel has been close knit, according to BCVFD current Chief of Department George Conklin, who works full-time in the NYC Department of Sanitation and has made recruitment amongst younger people his mission. Just recently, he and his crew attended Scholars’ Academy “Civics For All Fair,” which was about engaging youth in community service.

“Our end goal with the BCVFD Junior Program is for youth to have structure and are responsible citizens. So, by the time they reach age 17, they already know most of everything they need to know to become a senior BCVFD member. At the Scholars’ event, it was really encouraging to see 10 students sign up.

“I started in the Junior Program, following the men in my family, and now I’m chief. After 9/11, we had an active roster of 75 members. Everybody in this town joined. Unfortunately, many of those guys since left,” Conklin said.

Conklin also shared that being a part of the BCVFD is about being active in the community. “Mostly everyone, like myself, works a full-time job for the city. When I became chief, my sole purpose was to bring back community relations to the department. I go to every single event possible that has to do with the community. Whether it’s a corned beef dinner for St. Pat’s or a dinner for a lady that recently passed, supporting the Broad Channel Athletic Club, the Firehouse Haunted House, Easter Egg Hunt or someone wants to do a baby shower at the firehouse—yes, this department is here to respond to emergencies, but we are so cemented on who and what Broad Channel is, and we need volunteers.

“Whether you live in Rockaway, Broad Channel, other parts of Queens, Brooklyn, whatever—we need and welcome you, your children and grandchildren,” Conklin said.

The BCVFD legacy continues, and as the community of Broad Channel experiences its own changes, Conklin and McIntyre are hopeful about a future of continued service.

The Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department is located at 15 Noel Road. To learn about volunteering with the BCVFD, reach out to them on their Facebook page: or fill out the form on the Volunteer Firemen’s Association website:­-volunteer-fire-department/

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