In recent years, volunteer fire departments across Long Island have begun to eliminate similar citizenship requirements. Not having had any reason to review their own requirements, ERFD officials were now prompted to do so by Ball’s desire to serve his new community. Motivated by the need for more volunteers, officials of the 200-member department began the process of amending its bylaws to expand its eligibility requirements to include any permanent residents, regardless of place of birth.
Sandy steps in
But the issue would have to wait. Just as an examination of the bylaws got under way, Hurricane Sandy struck. During the storm, ERFD members responded to more than 160 emergency calls. Many of those who responded were victims themselves, having been displaced from their own homes, including two who were key players in the effort to change the ERFD’s eligibility requirements, Chief Steven Torborg and Christopher Shelton, an ex-chief and the chairman of the By-Law Committee.
“Although the challenges posed by the storm recovery delayed the efforts to expand eligibility requirements,” said Recruitment and Retention Coordinator Mike Chojnacki, “it also highlighted the importance of having a department that is adequately staffed to handle such large-scale emergency events.”
In addition, Ball said, it reinforced his desire to help his neighbors.
On Dec. 30, two months after the storm, the department membership gathered for a special meeting and voted overwhelmingly to expand eligibility requirements to welcome any permanent residents. Less than a month later, Ball was sworn in. He said that he was so welcomed into the community and the country, for that matter, that he should do is part to help in some way — and the fire department seemed like a great fit for him. “It’s been great,” said Ball, who, as of this writing, had yet to go on his first call. “I can’t wait!” he said.