GIVING BACK: Fully recruited

Northwood alum gives back to Lake Placid as firefighter

Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department member Mathieu Castonguay, left, climbs a ladder to the roof of the former Adirondack Medical Center building in Lake Placid during a training exercise in October 2020. (Provided photo — Art Devlin)

LAKE PLACID — The Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department last held an open house to attract new members two years ago, and one of the attendees is now a successful active firefighter.

In April each year, fire departments across the state open their doors to introduce people to volunteer firefighting. The effort — RecruitNY — is a program of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York. The idea is to beef up membership, which has been dwindling in recent years. The LPVFD currently has 40 volunteers and six paid fire drivers/911 dispatchers.

This past weekend, some departments held open houses in-person or virtually. The LPVFD did not participate this year or last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mathieu Castonguay joined the LPVFD after attending the RecruitNY open house in April 2019, and now he’s an interior firefighter.

Castonguay grew up in the tiny municipality of Saint-Edouard, Quebec, southwest of Quebec City, and he played hockey at Northwood School in Lake Placid during his junior and senior years of high school, graduating in 2009. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Middlebury College, playing hockey there for four years (elected captain during his senior year), and moved back to Lake Placid in 2013.

Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department member Mathieu Castonguay, kneeling, joins other firefighters from around the region on the roof of the former Adirondack Medical Center building in Lake Placid during a training exercise in October 2020. (Provided photo — Art Devlin)

He worked for Northwood for a couple of years as an admissions assistant and assistant coach of the boy’s junior hockey team.

“I then bounced around in the restoration resort industry, kind of finding my way through there, and nothing really stuck,” Castonguay said. Now he works for himself as a caretaker of various second-home and rental properties. “I grew up working on a farm as a kid, so just being outside and working with my hands is kind of where my spot is.”

Castonguay learned about firefighting when he was young; his father was a volunteer firefighter.

“Firefighting has always been kind of a thing for me,” he said. “After we were somewhat established (in Lake Placid), I was like, ‘Maybe it’s time to give back.'”

Some of his friends are members of the fire department, so he decided to attend the 2019 RecruitNY event.

“I ended up going over and chatting with some of the members I didn’t know. … Then I was like, ‘Why not?'”

Firefighting can sometimes be a thankless activity, he said.

“And volunteering is definitely not at the top of people’s priority list these days. I felt like I had a little bit of time to do it, so I decided to join.”

But it takes more than a little bit of time to become a volunteer firefighter in New York state. That’s one of the major reasons why people don’t join.

According to LPVFD Capt. Jennifer Marshall, the public information officer, it takes 79 hours of training to be state-certified for the Basic Exterior Firefighting Operations course. Those who want to be interior firefighters like Castonguay must complete an extra 50 hours of training in the Interior Firefighting Operations course. Plus, the department holds its own training each month.

The time commitment for training wasn’t an issue for Castonguay. He enjoys it.

“Part of it could be an adrenaline rush. The other part is you get to help,” he said. “As first responders, most times you get places where people are not having their greatest days, so if you can do a little something to help out and making that day just a little less (bad), it always helps.”

Castonguay has some advice for people who may be thinking about joining their local volunteer fire department.

“Don’t do it for the wrong reasons,” he said. “Don’t join because you think it gives you some kind of status. Join for the right reason, which is helping people out.”

To learn more about becoming a member of the Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department, visit the LPVFD Facebook page, call the non-emergency phone number at 518-523-3211 or pick up a membership application at the firehouse, located at 456 Old Military Road.

Link to LPVFD website: http://www.lakeplacidfd.com/