New York Man Volunteers as First Responder to Protect His Community

Daily Point of Light # 6074 Aug 25, 2017
Kevin Flensted (right) performs a car fire drill with the Westerlo Fire Department./Courtesy Kevin Flensted

For the past 24 years, Kevin Flensted has volunteered more than 800 hours each year to the Town of Westerlo Fire Department and Emergency Response Team (ERT), where he has served as a volunteer fire chief and an EMT. His selfless giving and leadership is the definition of true community spirit.

What inspires you to volunteer?

I know that each and every call makes a direct and tangible impact to the community. I think of the message of the church; “when I was hungry you fed me, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, …when you do this for the least of my brothers, you do this for me.”  This is my calling and I know that we have touched lives in positive ways, not every call, but throughout the years we have. Kids look up to us, and I wouldn’t want to let them down. 

Kevin performs the "Jenga" drill to help improve his fire fighting skills./Courtesy Kevin Flensted

Describe your volunteer role with the Westerlo Fire Department and Emergency Response Team (ERT).

I am the fire chief for the Town of Westerlo Volunteer Fire Company, which provides fire and emergency services to the town of Westerlo. My full time employer also has an emergency response team for which I am a member providing emergency medical first response and spill response to the various site locations. I also serve as a New York State Fire Instructor, grant writer for my fire department and surrounding departments and provide technical support on the Rensselaer County Hazmat team.

Why is it important to you to support your community in this way?

The number of volunteer fire and emergency services men and women are dwindling. When I first joined people tended to be more fixed in their communities, and invested their time and effort to make their communities better. As generations change, families are more mobile, stay less time in an area and are not as invested in their communities. Keeping up with training and certifications can be overwhelming and without family support, it is hard to retain our members. With fewer people responding, it makes it that much more important that we go when someone calls for help. 

What’s the most challenging aspect of your volunteer service? 

I think the most challenging thing is changing hats. Switching from fire chief to dad, or husband, or just holding it all together to go to work after being out all night on a call, especially a bad one. Make no mistake, it is a tough job, we respond to “good” calls and “bad” ones. We can change the outcome of someone’s day or entire life by our actions, so there is a lot of responsibility. 

How have you grown personally through your service? 

I have grown from just thinking about myself to being responsible for others. I make decisions that can place people in harms way in order to save someone, and all I hope is that everyone goes home safe at the end of the call.  I have learned what it is to truly give of yourself.  And the friendships made over the years are more like family.

Kevin and other members of the Westerlo Fire Department respond to a chimney fire./Courtesy Kevin Flensted

Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?  

I like to think that you should always leave the world better than you found it and help others when they need it. Pay it forward when you can and you will reap tremendous benefits.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

Just being able to help people in a way that you can’t be paid back. We collect tax dollars as we have expenses for gear and such, but our members come to help in your darkest hour because you needed it, with no expectation of being paid back.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

The majority of people are good people. Hug your family and your children, life is short. Attend their sports activities and school events. Work hard, but put your family first, they deserve it. Learn to see things from different perspectives, and never pass up an opportunity to make a memory.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

Find something that you enjoy doing and go out and make the world a better place. Maybe your talent isn’t being a firefighter or EMT, but everyone has a talent, and there are plenty of organizations that run strictly on the generosity of volunteers. If you are doing something that truly matters to you, it is not work at all, and you get out of it as much as you put it.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Kevin? Visit All For Good to find local volunteer opportunties.

Jia Gayles