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Some Like It Hot

Barbara Bensoussan

They’re weekend warriors, a volunteer crew of heroes who literally jump into the fire when emergency strikes. It might not be a Jewish mother’s fantasy profession, but every little boy wants to be a fireman one day, doesn’t he?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Moshe Stareshefsky often hears the whispering from little boys behind him as he waits on line at the pizza store in Passaic. “That’s Fireman Moshe!” they tell each other excitedly, recognizing him from his presentations in their yeshivos. What little boy isn’t captivated by firemen and fire engines, as they tear down the road like a red streak, all the sirens blaring? What Jewish mother hasn’t given her pint-sized son an indulgent smile when he tells her he’s going to be a fireman when he grows up, meanwhile thinking skeptically, As if that’s a job for a Jewish boy. For Fire Lieutenant Stareshefsky and his many frum colleagues, being a Jewish fireman is no oxymoron. While there are likely very few full-time frum firefighters in America, there are many who serve as highly valued and much-needed volunteer firemen, sleeping at home but remaining on call to assist with fires. It’s not an easy job: Think about running into a burning building with 60 pounds of gear weighing you down (twice that when wet), and gripping a 200-pound hose that requires you to dig in with all your strength to avoid being knocked down by the pressure. But on the plus side, firefighting brings the reward of helping people in real time, saving their property — and often their lives. According to Stareshefsky, firefighting attracts a certain kind of person: Type A, energetic, aggressive — “The guys who want to save the world,” he says cheerfully, not excluding himself from that category. He himself worked as a lifeguard, got certification as an EMT, and says if he had time to spare he’d start his own Shomrim chapter in Passaic. “I have a hard time saying no to anything,” he admits.  Most volunteer firemen begin young; Stareshefsky was 20 years old on September 11, 2001, an event that spurred him to action. “Joining the military wasn’t an option, so I looked for something local,” he says. “As I spoke to people, they suggested the fire auxiliary, so I called and they invited me down.” His localRutherford volunteer fire department is the busiest in Bergen County, averaging about 800 calls a year.

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