HIBERNIA, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – It’s an iconic sight: The spotless red and polished chrome of a fire engine. It’s a reflection of a department’s dedication to the community.
None more dedicated than Steve Derewicz.
“I like to get up and get going early in the morning. If I have to do something on the truck, I like to get up here and do it because its quiet, there’s nobody to bother me and I can get it done,” he told CBS2’s Steve Overmyer.
He’s been getting it done, answering calls and saving lives in Hibernia, N.J. for 55 years.
“What would you say is the one thing that would make Hibernia so special?” Overmyer asked.
“I’m here,” he joked.
At the age of 85, Steve stands as the eldest among the bravest. He’s responsible for keeping other firefighters stocked in their most precious commodity – clean air.
Few jobs are as dangerous as firefighting.
“You gotta be someone willing to help people when they’re in trouble and need help. And sometimes I think you might need to be a little off,” Steve joked. “No, I’m just kidding on that one. Because usually what you’ll see is firemen running towards the danger when everybody else is running away. So you can draw your own conclusions.”
There was a time when every able-bodied man in each community was a volunteer firefighter. But according to the National Fire Protection Agency, the number of firefighters have dropped by 10 percent in the past decade, while the number of calls have increased by 230 percent.
“I don’t remember the exact date, but our own firehouse was on fire,” Steve said. “Yeah, it’s pretty exciting when your own firehouse is on fire when you see the smoke coming up.”
“Do you guys get your chops busted by every other fire department?” Overmyer asked.
“Yes. They have no sympathy,” Steve said. “A lot of that’s long gone, because it was so many years ago.”
“So the other townships don’t remember anymore?” Overmyer asked.
“Yeah. Most of the old timers are gone, or they don’t want to remember it anymore,” Steve said.
In rural America, firefighters are mostly volunteers. They’re first on the scene and need to respond to medical calls, which means more training.
Since 1964, Steve’s helped to save thousands of lives in Rockaway Township. Volunteers like him risk their lives to save yours, Overmyer reported, and they’re doing it with no pay.
“I’m the type of guy, I don’t expect anything in return. I’m doing it because I wanna do it,” Steve said. “It’s fun. As long as it’s still fun I’ll keep doing it. When it stops being fun anymore then I’ll consider stepping back.”