At 69-years-old Paul Frutiger’s fire, rescue, and medical career is longer than most volunteers are old.
Frutiger started his volunteer service with the fire department in Croton-On-Hudson located 32 miles north of New York City. He is a lifetime member of the department that had 5 companies and over 300 members when he joined in 1968.
He moved to the Rombout Fire Company in Fishkill, NY in 1976, where he is also a lifetime member before working his way south to Greene County. He joined Caney Branch in 1998, and after 6 years moved over to Midway where he remains a current member. Frutiger has also been an active member of the Rescue Squad since 1999.
Reflecting on his 52-year career, Frutiger often jokes about the changes during his length of service.
He was pre-pagers. When he started the station would use a combination of horns and sirens to indicate which department is to respond.
He was pre-CPR. Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation was not part of emergency responder training until the late 1960s.
He was pre-Hurst tools. The Hurst tools are also known as the jaws of life. It was not uncommon prior to their development to cover a patient with an asbestos blanket while opening the mangled car with a cutting torch.
Frutiger’s love of service is not just being a certified firefighter, a rescue technician, and an EMT, now an EMR. He served in numerous officer positions such as 2LT and Captain with Croton-On-Hudson. He was the Safety Officer with Rombout, and a Captain in both Caney Branch and Midway.
Based on walking a couple of fire and rescue trade shows with him, I was not surprised to find he was also a New York State pump instructor for 22 years. He cannot pass a truck without looking over the position of all the controls on the pumper control panel.
Service is a way of life for Frutiger, who ran 31 calls with the Rescue Squad in July of this year. That number pales in comparison to his normal average of 500-600 calls per year with the New York departments. When asked how he does it, his response is simple and quick, “I’m crazy!” What he is really saying is he loves what he does.
The truth is, he is driven to serve and has always enjoyed the challenge.
The desire to serve nearly cost him his life in 1970 when his department was working a fire with their brand new 1970 Maxum 100’ aerial truck. Frutiger was 68’ up in the air when the aerial ladder he was on started what was at first a slow collapse.
Frutiger laughs when telling the story because of how it felt like slow motion.
“I started going down, slow at first. So slow my Captain had time to jump in the truck cab to get the ambulance on its way before I hit the ground.”
He continued to laugh, “I looked over to see a lineman on the pole disconnecting the power, when the aerial hit the lines the pole shook back and forth with him on it like the old cartoons!”
The speed of the aerial ladder increased as he came closer to the ground with a sudden stop on top of a short retaining wall. This flipped him heals-over-head forward on the ladder, his ladder belt was the only lifeline keeping him from being catapulted forward.
The fall resulted in broken wrists, contusions, several damaged teeth, and a severe cut to his chin from the metal buckle on the top of his coat. Both the truck and Firefighter Frutiger were “repaired” and returned to service. However, damage to his back from the flip on the ladder would not be discovered until years later.
Unfortunately, not all stories have a happy ending.
Firefighting is dangerous work with firefighters dying each year in the service if their community. One such incident impacted Frutiger significantly with the death of one of his friends, a fellow volunteer member in his Rombout Fire Company in 1984.
“There was an incident,” he said. “It was a line of duty death. It was my Assistant Chief, Eduardo Gonzalez. Eduardo was his real name, but we called him Eddie most of the time, in addition to his many nicknames. I drove the antique firetruck for him and his wife during their wedding. His was a line of duty death, and the department was never the same after that.”
The impact of such a traumatic event impacted the department and changed Frutiger’s role in the department and the local fire service.
Frutiger became a founding member of the Hudson Valley Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) team. The purpose of the CISM team is to provide immediate short-term psychological help, which enables people to return to their daily routine quicker with less likelihood of experiencing post-traumatic stress. The team often responded to requests for support 4 and 5 times a week on top of his regular emergency calls.
His Chief pushed him to also become the department’s Safety Officer following the National Fire Protection Association standard 1521. Accepting the challenge, Frutiger enrolled in multiple classes to earn the certifications required for the position as well as traveled across the county to learn best practices from other departments. This role stayed with him as he moved to other departments throughout his career.
The move to Greene County with his wife Ellie was an effort to find more room for their horses, something expensive back in New York when you can get it. In addition to land, he also found volunteer departments in need of equipment.
Helping facilitate the purchase and transport of 13 apparatus and a large amount of equipment to local departments from those up in the northeast is something he is proud to have helped with. Who knew his contacts from being a New York State pump instructor would still be so beneficial today!
Frutiger has the typical look of a firefighter, a department t-shirt, the black pager on his belt, and the handlebar mustache. He is a soft-spoken man but if the rookies listen to him, they will learn a lot about firefighting, medical response, truck maintenance, extrication, department operations, and history of the service.
If you are around him any time at all you pick up on three key points. Respond to the calls, enough said. Stay off the radio. Make necessary communications only, otherwise cut the chatter. Do not damage the patient, the Frutiger version of “do no harm.”
As far as the future goes, he has not thought about it. His two passions are motorcycles and the fire service. He will give them up when he is ready but, it is not time yet.