ELBRIDGE — On a Monday night in 1984, Michael Caron dropped by the Elbridge Fire Department for drills. At 26 years old, he and his wife, Renee, had recently moved to town and met a few local firefighters, who encouraged Caron to check out the firehouse.
Now — two homes, three kids and four jobs later — there’s one thing that hasn’t changed: Caron still drops by the fire department one Monday a month.
The volunteer fireman earned his membership back in June ’84, and for the next three years he responded to calls in the town and village of Elbridge.
“I always stayed behind the scenes and acted in a supportive role,” Caron said. “I wasn’t inside the burning buildings. I was on the outside, cleaning the roads after accidents, directing traffic… things like that.”
But in 1987, Caron and Renee became homeowners in the hamlet of Memphis. And, despite the fact that their new house was actually closer to the Elbridge Fire Department, it was considered part of the Jordan Fire Department’s district — which meant Caron had to transfer.
It was then — while also working full-time in the financial services industry — that Caron took his first fire police course, receiving special training to support firefighting efforts at emergencies.
“I became one of the fire police in Jordan and saw a few bad calls out on Route 31,” he said, noting that his job was always to protect the scene. “But we got through it.”
Caron spent three “wonderful years” at the Jordan Fire Department until 1990, when he and his wife decided to move their family back to the village of Elbridge — and his first firehouse.
Caron has been there ever since.
Now 59, he continues to serve as a volunteer fireman in Elbridge. In addition, he is the new president of the Onondaga County Volunteer Firemen’s Association, a member of the Central New York and Northern Central Volunteer Firemen’s Associations and the director of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York.
“In the fire service, it starts with your local fire department,” Caron explained. “Then you have your county organization, then what they call ‘sectionals,’ and finally the state association. I’m involved on every level… but somehow I do manage to make it work.”
Still, there was a stretch when Caron did not respond to calls. Rather, he was an emeritus member, attending monthly meetings and acting as a liaison between the village and the fire department.
And one of the things the village wanted, Caron said, was a park.
“When I came to this community… the only thing we had was a historical park in the village,” he recalled. “So in 1992, I ran for the (Village of Elbridge) Board of Trustees and I told people I would do everything I could to build a park for this community.”
Caron served on the board for eight years, taking a small step back from the fire department to focus on creating a park dedicated to former Elbridge firefighter and constable Seymour Loft.
“I was instrumental in getting the village and the town behind the project to build the park,” he said smiling. “And at the time, I would try to keep the fire department informed as to what the village was doing.”
After his second term as a trustee ended in 2001, Caron switched back to volunteer fire police, which he continues to do to this day. That is, when he’s not working full-time as a senior financial representative in Syracuse.
“As volunteers, we’re expected to get out of bed, stop whatever it is we’re doing, get to the firehouse and do the job,” he said. “But somehow the good Lord has always been able to allow me to adjust my schedules to make things work.”
Still, Caron admitted it can be a struggle.
“Unlike paid firefighters, who are constantly exercising and doing the things they should be doing to take care of themselves, volunteers don’t always have time to do that,” Caron said. “It’s not always easy when you’re a volunteer because you’re working full-time and doing all kinds of different things. And unfortunately, we (volunteers) often have heart attacks at calls because of that added stress.”
That’s why, as the newly elected director of FASNY, Caron is fighting for better benefits for volunteer firefighters.
According to Caron, recent research has found that all firefighters are more susceptible to cancer than the average person, but only paid firefighters are able to get cancer benefits. Volunteers are left out.
“That’s one of the things that we’re fighting really hard for (at FASNY),” he said. “Firefighters are breathing stuff in and then the cancer shows up many years later… and it’s important to realize that volunteers are often risking just as much as the paid guys.”
But for Caron, who celebrated 32 years as a volunteer fireman this summer, that risk has been worth it.
“I’ve always wanted to give back to my community and help those that are experiencing the worst day of their lives,” he said. “And it’s so good when we see the public support us when we’re having one of the worst days of our lives… It’s wonderful to know that the community stands behind the fire department as we stand behind them.”