By Kassie Parisi
CLIFTON PARK — While firefighters focus on quelling flames, in Saratoga County, there is another group of volunteers for fire victims to lean on in the immediate days, or even hours, after a fire at their home.
After the Fire Inc. is a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing immediate support to victims of fires. Established in 1991 by members of the Halfmoon and Clifton Park fire auxiliaries, volunteers in After the Fire travel to fire scenes around the county to help families get a jumpstart on getting their lives back in order.
Joanne Joseph, who joined the organization in 2004, explained that volunteers travel to scenes and provide people with anything they need at the time, from emotional support, to small, but necessary personal care items, such as toothpaste. Volunteers also have information brochures and other area resources, such as the names of local hotels that, in conjunction with After the Fire, provide victims with a free place to spend the night.
“It’s a matter of just being there, and letting them know that people care and are there to support them,” Joseph said.
At After the Fire, volunteers are paged via fire control dispatchers when their services are required. Similar to volunteer fire departments, volunteers travel to fire scenes depending on their location at the time, and availability. Once they arrive at the scene, volunteers talk with victims to figure out what assistance is needed. Sometimes the help involves calling a hotel to arrange a free night for a family, and sometimes it involves connecting that family to After the Fire’s network of donors, or coordinating the donation of household items and furniture. Volunteers also provide families with gift cards up to $100 to major local retailers, and directs them to thrift stores that they partner with to access free clothing. Some of the hotels that After the Fire partners with allow pets as well, which, Joseph pointed out, can help victims get through trauma.
Since its inception, the organization has helped at least 1200 families, with 25 families having received some sort of support in 2107 so far, Joseph said.
When volunteers aren’t helping at fire scenes, said Joseph, they’re helping with fundraising efforts. After the Fire is funded totally by donations, and has connections to multiple other groups, as well as the Shenendehowa Central School District. The group also holds regular meetings to recruit more volunteers. In the future, Joseph said, the group would like to find more ways to partner with fire departments to teach about fire prevention and safety.
Right now, Joseph said, there are around nine active volunteers, and the average volunteer is someone over the age of 50 who has the ability to be flexible in his or her schedule. Many of the volunteers don’t need much training in helping victims, she said, because the volunteers who are interested in this particular line of work already enjoy helping people.
After the Fire is usually only involved with families during the initial visit to the fire scene as an immediate lifeline, because families are usually able to deal with recovery after they receive a leg up. Joseph explained that after fires, victims usually feel very disoriented, but are able to start the recovery process after After the Fire provides them with a stable way to navigate through the immediate aftermath of the fire.
“We’re here to help you get over the hurdle of this initial shock,” Joseph said. “We try to focus in on the moment. We’re focusing their attention on today and resolving the immediate issues.”