Great Neck Alert Junior Firefighters, led by a team of five female officers, were named 2019 Youth Group of the Year by the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY). The award was presented by FASNY President Steven Klein in a special ceremony at Great Neck Alert Fire Company headquarters on Saturday, May 11.
Each year, FASNY recognizes a youth fire organization that displays dedication to fire safety and community service.
“Youth groups and explorer programs are an extremely important part of the fire service,” said Klein. “The Great Neck Alert Junior Firefighters are an outstanding example of fire service youth groups and embody the qualities inherent to the fire service. They should be proud to receive this award and serve as a model for similar programs across the state of New York.”
This year’s winner is particularly unique. When the Alert Junior Firefighters were formed nearly 40 years ago, the group consisted of all boys, but five female members were nominated as leadership during the annual election in December.
Julia Motchkavitz, a junior at South High School, was elected captain, Maya Garfinkel became first lieutenant, Lauren Murphy was elected second lieutenant, Abigail Garcia was selected as recording secretary and Alexandra Kessler was nominated as financial secretary.
“The girls definitely run things a little differently, in a good way,” said Alert Chief James Neubert. “I am very proud of them.”
In a male dominated industry, all-female leadership is a first for this Great Neck youth group.
“Not only is the Alert Fire Company’s dedication to developing a culture of volunteerism and community service highly admirable, I applaud the company and its members for leading by example and sending a message to young women that, through hard work and commitment, the opportunities available to them are endless,” noted Legislator Ellen W. Birnbaum, who honored the Juniors with a citation.
During the mid-1970s, a group of Alert fire fighters noticed that many kids had an interest in the fire service, but had no way to pursue that dream in their teens.
After extensive research, these leaders obtained approval and created bylaws to guide the new organization. Many of the first applications went to children of Alert members and, after interviews were held, the original group of Alert Junior Firefighters were sworn in in 1982.
The current 30-member group, comprised of 12 to 17 year olds from the Great Neck area, meet twice a month for meetings and training sessions. The Juniors help the department host educational fire prevention seminars, assist in an open house where drills are demonstrated to the community and are involved in other events and activities.
The Juniors’ names engraved on the plaque include Motchkavitz, Garfinkel, Murphy, Garcia, Kessler, Ex-Captains David Oginski and Seth Newman, Natasha Castro, Nicholas Rietbroek, Lorna Wade, Anthony Flores, Harrison Katz, Cristel Segovia, Darling Garcia, Christopher Suero, Ashley Talledo, Ethan Moezinia, Lucas Curcio, Samira Quispe, Alejandra Miranda, Richard Deem, Jordan Yuska, Ariel Kashanian, Matthew Chang, Ashley Calderon, Randy Talledo, Aedan Hidasi, Ryan Wong, Gregory Olkhovetsky, Kiara Tobias, Juliette Gonzalez and Natalie Kiaei. They all received a special pin from FASNY to wear on their uniforms.
Interestingly, 40 percent of current Alert firefighters have come through the Juniors program. The group has become so popular that there’s a waiting list to get in.