Michael Molinelli makes his living putting up buildings. But when his community calls, he is there to put ou fires.
Molinelli, the owner of Molinell Architects in Briarcliff Manor, ha! also been a volunteer firefighter with the Briarcliff Manor Fire Department for three years.
Molinelli was born and raised in Briarcliff Manor. "I was the last place I expected to come back to after college," he said.
However, a job with local architect Don Reiman, who was also a member of the fire department, brought him back in 1985. He lived in White Plains until he bought his current home in 1990. He got married in 1995, and he and his wife had a pair of twins in 1998 and a third child in 2001.
Molinelli had been active in the community, including working at a homeless shelter in White Plains and serving on the board of directors of the Child Care Center of Westchester, but he said he dropped many of those activities to concentrate on his new family.
By 2001, though, he was ready to get involved again, and a recruiting pamphlet for the fire department gave him the direction he needed. "I thought I'd join as a way to reconnect to my community," he said.
The Briarcliff Manor Fire Department, along with departments all around Westchester County, faces a perennial manpower shortage. With most of the local residents commuting to work, finding people around to respond to calls during weekdays is particularly difficult, Molinelli said. Since his business is headquartered in his home, this isn't a problem for him.
In fact, the community has had such a turnover of residents over the years that many people don't know the fire department is made up of volunteers. None of the members nor the officers receive any pay. "This is just what we do in our spare time," Molinelli said.
The department responds to about 500 calls a year, both fires and medical emergencies. Most of the fire calls are from automatic alarms and, "Most of them are false, but you never know," he said.
The department, as a whole, has 75 to 100 active members, and the hook and ladder company Molinelli belongs to has 25 to 30 at any given time. "They're great," he said. "There are members who have been there for 50 years."
Molinelli has had about 40 hours of firefighter training so far and has recently completed training to drive the company's hook and ladder truck. "The first calls I went on, I kept wishing I had more training.
One of the rewards of being a part of the department is knowing that, when disasters do strike, you can do something useful. In a small way, we're all trying to do something that's needed," he said.
He joined the department before 9/11 but, after those tragic attacks, he like a lot of other people didn't know what to do. So he spent the day at the firehouse, since the department had sent some of its trucks to the Bronx to cover for the firefighters who had gone to the towers.
Molinelli said the largest fire the department has had to deal with in his tenure was the Briarcliff Lodge fire in 2003. Ironically, he had been involved in efforts to preserve the historic, abandoned hotel from demolition before the fire. "It was a phenomenal fire," he said.
Even though his knowledge of architecture has been useful in trying to save burning buildings, Molinelli says the buildings aren't the important par of fire fighting, "The important thing is 'saving lives."