By Dick Nagle, Croton Volunteer Fire Department
The village of Croton on Hudson is located about 35 miles north of New York City. Many of its 8,000 residents commute into the city each day while many others work at jobs in the larger metropolitan area. Finding sufficient qualified personnel to staff the Croton Volunteer Fire Department presents a continuing challenge.
In 1982, the department decided to sponsor an Explorer post through the Boy Scouts of America that is still functioning today. It is a prime source of new recruits, starting at age 14.
Since 1990, 70 young people have joined the department as Explorers (or through the Probationary Active Firefighter program for 16- and 17-year-olds.) Today, 48 percent of those members are still active in the department. This compares to a 25 percent retention rate for all other new members.
These youth programs have been so successful at retaining members that four former Explorers have become chief officers and even have their own children enrolled in the post.
“For me, joining the post was the one thing I was really excited to do when I turned 14,” said former CVFD Chief John Munson, a lieutenant in the communications division of the Westchester County Department of Emergency Services. “Having grown up around the firehouse, I didn’t know of anything else that could be so rewarding.
“Programs like these are a necessity to volunteer departments such as ours,” Munson added. “They provide a foundation for young adults to grow from ‘a group of teenagers’ to welldisciplined, hard-working members of our firefighting team.”
Former chief and current emergency room nurse Phil Dinkler credits his early training as an Explorer with pointing him on a career path in emergency services.
“Giving back to our community is something I learned from my Dad. Starting at age 14 helped me make an early career choice,” said Dinkler, whose father was a Croton chief and his son, now in the military, was an Explorer.
FDNY firefighter and CVFD First Assistant Chief Matt Mansfield said that without the Explorers and PAF, the Croton Fire Department would not have such a robust roster.
“They are a tremendous resource for our department,” he said. And the tradition continues at the CVFD. “I expect to be chief someday, just like my Dad,” said Explorer Billy Vlad, son of current Croton Chief Bill Vlad. Bill’s daughter, Taylor, also became an Explorer recently.
“I give most of the credit to the senior members of the department who have continued the tradition of excellence started 30 years ago,” the elder Vlad said. “I could not be more proud of our department today for the success we have been able to achieve through the Explorer program.”