When an emergency strikes, two questions flash through the mind of Michael Seltzer, a lieutenant in the Valley Stream Fire Department: Where’s the call, and what type of call is it?
“When I go to volunteer, my main goal is to get home safely,” said Seltzer, a former department captain. “You have to remain calm and work under extreme pressure at times.”
The coronavirus pandemic has only increased the pressures of volunteering, said Seltzer, 49, who oversees the department’s emergency medical services. He’s in charge of making sure EMTs follow new pandemic safety protocols and wear required personal protective equipment.
“My biggest concern during this pandemic is making sure that the Fire Department ambulances always have enough protective gear on them,” said Seltzer, who works long hours as a Nassau County police medic and is married with two children, ages 18 and 15. “I also make sure that the Fire Department has the most up-to-date information” about the pandemic, which, he noted, “changes daily.”
Last month, a longtime EMT with the department, Mike Field, died of Covid-19 after transporting a coronavirus patient. Seltzer and Field had volunteered together for 32 years, since Seltzer joined the department, and he recalled the last conversation he had with Field before he died. It was a warning.
“He wanted me to tell everyone at the firehouse that this was no joke, and to make sure they have their protective equipment on at all times,” Seltzer said.
In the face of such tragedy, Seltzer said he has developed techniques to cope. “Trying to keep a sense of humor usually helps me manage my emotions,” he said. “I tend to sometimes overlook self-care, but just seeing people recover and leave the hospital keeps the motivation going.
“I have always wanted to help people,” he continued. “As a kid, I was always watching television shows about fire, police and emergency medical services.’”
Seltzer was 5 years old when his father joined the Fire Department. In high school, he studied heating, air-conditioning, refrigeration and ventilation at the Nassau BOCES Barry Career and Technical Center, a trade school in Westbury, and graduated from Valley Stream South High School in 1988. After, he joined the Fire Department at 18 and was certified as an advanced EMT.
After decades of service, he said he remains passionate about the work, noting that volunteering has brought him lifelong friendships.
“Helping people when they are at their worst is very rewarding,” he said. “My favorite part about volunteering is networking and meeting people that have become lifelong friends.”
Valley Stream Fire Chief Eugene O’Brien said he admires Seltzer’s work ethic, and that he shows pride in guiding the members of his company to be better every day.
“Working during this pandemic has been tough on everyone, but Mike contributes a lot to the department,” he said. “Mike, specifically, has worked long hours [as a county medic] and still manages to come to the firehouse and help out when he can.”
According to O’Brien, Seltzer has served as a role model to many of the probationary firefighters by teaching and advising them for years, and he is usually one of the first to assist with training
“My advice to someone who aspires to volunteer for the fire department is to soak up all the knowledge that they can from other experienced members,” Seltzer said. “Learning from mistakes that you and others have made can save lives.”