Volunteers Doing: Kindergarten Firefighter

When you talk volunteerism and firefighting with Lisa Kaplan, the excitement in her voice mimics her enthusiasm in her kindergarten classroom, wide-eyed and happy to talk about it and share the enthusiasm of helping people.{{more}}

Being only one of four female firefighters on the Orange Volunteer Fire Department, has not been an issue for Lisa. “I was the only women for two years,” she explained. And yes, the distinctions in male v female have come to light but not in the ways most would think, especially for Lisa who has been weight lifting since age 14. There was one time Lisa referred to their uniforms as “outfits,” “I will never live that one down,” she said with a smile.

For a girl from Southern New Jersey, being a firefighter was something she always wanted to do, although her husband, Paul, didn’t know it until their daughter, Danielle’s graduation ceremony from Amity High School. Paul said that Lisa looked at him said, ‘you know how I always wanted to be a firefighter?’ According to Paul that was the first time he ever heard that!

The day after graduation in June 2008, Lisa signed up to be a member of the OVFD. She knew it would be a big time commitment and she wouldn’t have been able to do it while her kids were still home and in school. For six months, Lisa went to training classes two nights per week and weekends to become certified by the state to be a firefighter in the Town of Orange. “I passed my practical exam one week after my 50th birthday,” Lisa said proudly.

Even now, the time commitment is more than most people think. “We have training every Tuesday night,” she added with a reminder that Orange’s fire department is 100 percent volunteer. In addition to being a member firefighter, Lisa volunteers on committees within the fire department. She is chair of the Public Education Committee. The committee is responsible for doing fire safety presentations in the schools, which as a kindergarten teacher at Mary L Tracy School, is an area in which she is very comfortable. As part of this committee, Lisa mentioned that on Oct. 19 the OFVD will be part of Family Science Day at United Illuminating’s Smart Living Center.

As an OVFD member, she will be at the Orange Country Fair, and this year they will have a fire extinguisher simulator. She also participates in the Firemen’s Muster held each year in September at Eisenhower Park in Milford.

Besides being chair of the Public Education Committee, Lisa is Corresponding Secretary and serves on the Personnel Committee.

The fire department isn’t where Lisa started her volunteerism. Lisa is and has been a coach for the Special Olympics Unified Sports program at Amity High School since 2004. “In the Fall we have soccer, Winter is basketball, and Spring is volleyball and sometimes track and field,” she explained. To be able to participate in the Unified Sports program, Lisa has to go to Amity twice per week right when school gets out and then, she said, she goes back to Mary L after to do her lesson plans. Lisa said regular education students also volunteer and when her daughter, Danielle, was a student at Amity she was a Unified Sports volunteer also, which made those years special for both of them.

“We are not in this life to look through people but how we can help them through life,” Lisa said paraphrasing a quote she once heard. “If you can live this life and help others, that’s what it is all about. There is a passion within you.”

What does she see as some of the causes of many fires in Orange? Dryer fires are one, but people leaving their stoves on when the power goes out is another. When the power comes back on and they forget the stove is on and now there is something on the stove, a fire starts, she explained.

Being a kindergarten teacher and a firefighter gives Lisa a unique opportunity to help the younger victims of house fires. She explained that she now keeps stuffed animals in her car to help console children. This began after responding to a kitchen fire and she could see the four year old little girl who lived there was upset. Lisa happened to have a Mickey Mouse doll in her car. “I grabbed Mickey and put it in my pocket and went over to her and told her Mickey was frightened and did she think she could help Mickey feel better.”

“When I have done something to help somebody, I get so much out of it. I have a wonderful sense of doing for someone else that is personally fulfilling.”

Jody Dietch is the Synagogue Administrator at Congregation Or Shalom. She is a member of the Orange Board of Education serving as vice chair. Jody has degrees in both journalism and public relations.