By Lauren Friedgen
“People call the fire department when they’re having the worst day of their lives,” Erik Haversang, Saint Michael’s Fire Chief, told a recent visitor. Hearing the radio alarm that signals distress means something different for Haversang: “I enjoy knowing that we’re the people who can make it better.”
Saint Michael’s Fire and Rescue program, which started in 1969, offers students the opportunity to become volunteer firefighters or certified Emergency Medical Technicians, responding to calls
at the college and in its surrounding area. Around 60 students volunteer between the two programs, each putting in a minimum of 24 hours a week —on top of their classwork. They train hard. “What you learn to expect is the unexpected,” says Haversang. “If you can think of it, eventually it will happen.”
Being a firefighter is in Haversang’s blood — both his father and uncle were volunteers in Essex Falls, N.J. After 9/11, friends and family members volunteered in New York for a week, bringing back stories Haversang will never forget. Some of the roughly 700 calls per year are tough, but for Haversang, recently promoted to Fire Unit Chief, the reward is worth it. This year, on move-in day a car with five people hit a telephone pole. The driver was entrapped. Some wore seat belts, Haversang says grimly, some did not. All survived.
Haversang and his team had them all out within an hour. “I’ve been in this position full time for half a year, but I haven’t felt like I’ve worked a day yet,” he reports. “When you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like work.”