A look inside a nursing home for firefighters
Imagine a nursing home where residents have more in common than age, life experience, and medical challenges. Imagine a nursing home where the camaraderie is so strong that residents call themselves “brothers”; a fraternity of sorts, a place where everyone knows you, understands you and your life’s calling, and links you together forever. This does exist—at the Firemen’s Home in upstate New York
A nonprofit facility that opened more than 100 years ago, the Firemen’s Home is a unique nursing facility dedicated to providing quality nursing care to former New York State volunteer firefighters. The 140-bed facility sits grandly on 122 acres of rolling hills overlooking the Hudson River, in the city of Hudson, a popular tourist destination for antiquing. Visiting with the residents, who are referred to as members, one can quickly see that this is not just any nursing home. Former firefighters come from all over the state to receive quality 24-hour care at the Firemen’s Home. But it’s more than the care they seek. They come for the familiarity, comfort, and family-like environment, and the strong presence of the firefighting theme that runs throughout the home in its design, decor, activities, and values. All of the residents refer to this facility as a true “home away from home.”
“Our residents are our total focus,” states Craig Wittman, administrator of the Firemen’s Home. “They are the reason we exist, and we do everything within our power to make their experience here fulfilling and rewarding.” He adds, “Our skilled and dedicated staff know every resident by name and have a very special bond with each and every one of them.”
These residents, who have served one year or more in the volunteer firefighting service in the state, are admitted to the Home from their home, a hospital, or another healthcare facility or program. While most nursing homes will have at least twice as many woman residents as men because of women’s extended life span, the Firemen’s Home is an anomaly. Until recently, the population was 100% male. In 2005, the board of trustees responded to a growing need from the firefighting community to admit female firefighters, spouses of current residents, and members of various ladies auxiliaries as residents. Today, the census is approximately 10% female, a cultural phenomenon, but the women have been very well received by their majority counterparts.
The trustees of the Firemen’s Home are an extremely dedicated and committed group of individuals who have a unique mission in that they travel tirelessly around the state, “spreading the word” about the Home. They meet with fire departments and firemen organizations, as well as families in their own homes to share information with them about admission.
The Firemen’s Home does not accept Medicare or Medicaid. It is supported by The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) and from donations from the firefighting commun-ity and the public.
Programs and Activities
Specialized rehabilitation for both younger and older residents encompasses quality healthcare, compassionate staff, the camaraderie of socializing with fellow firefighters, and continued connections to firefighting activities. Skilled nursing staff, social workers, and therapists work closely with residents to assist them in achieving good health and maximum functioning. The resident rooms at the Home are bright and decorated with personal belongings, family photos, and firefighting memorabilia. Each room has cable television, a VCR, and access to an in-house movie system. Computers are also available for residents to e-mail family and friends.
While the rehab program offers physical and occupational therapy in the traditional manner, some occupational therapy activities include creative use of activities-of-daily-living skills. In 2002, residents, along with the occupational therapist, formed the F&H Railroad Association; they spend time in OT designing and building model railroads.
Activities are endless at the Firemen’s Home, including traditional nursing home programs such as bingo, but more unique opportunities such as trips to parades and firefighting meetings and conventions are offered. Residents also enjoy art classes, pet therapy, gardening, shuffleboard, billiards, karaoke, intergenerational programming, and playing cards, to name a few. A beautiful chapel with stained-glass windows provides interdenominational services and an opportunity for personal prayer
Enjoying the outdoors is a special pastime for residents of the Firemen’s Home, as they often observe wild turkey and deer running in their own backyard. They enjoy trips to local restaurants and other area locations, as well as to sectional firefighting meetings and ballgames, giving them a wonderful opportunity to stay connected with their peers. These jaunts take place in the Home’s full-size red bus, affectionately called “Big Red.” And each summer, volunteer fire departments from across the state come to the Home to enjoy softball competitions and special events.
Because residents often come from towns up to 400 miles away, overnight guest rooms are available at no charge for families who travel distances to be with their loved one. A weekend rarely goes by without a group of firefighters from one of several thousand fire departments throughout the state making the trip to Hudson to drop in and visit their friends and former department firefighters at the Firemen’s Home. The allegiance they feel to former members of their department is moving, as fire departments sometimes will sponsor a resident, send them gifts and cards, or buy furniture or requested items for their rooms.
FASNY Museum of Firefighting
The world-renowned FASNY Museum of Firefighting, on the grounds of the Firemen’s Home, provides a wonderful opportunity for residents to not only enjoy firefighting history, but to volunteer at the museum if they desire. The museum offers one of the world’s largest collections of firefighting apparatus, equipment, gear, and memorabilia, and receives visitors from around the globe.
A New Firemen’s Home Nears Completion
While the Firemen’s Home was built more than 100 years ago, today’s residents and staff are anxiously awaiting the opening of their new facility, located on the current campus. The new 126,000 square-foot Firemen’s Home, expected to open shortly, will feature all the comforts of home, including oversize resident rooms, cable television and 24-hour movie service, large dining rooms and visiting areas, a beautiful chapel, an Alzheimer’s unit, a recreation center, and a rehabilitation suite featuring a physical therapy pool. Residents will also enjoy a large commissary, beauty parlor, and barbershop. The new building will feature an employee fitness center. A spacious multipurpose room will house special events and parties and be available for public use. Today, the residents of the Home enjoy watching the construction of the building through a large glass-enclosed porch where they sit on comfortable chairs and sofas as a new phase of their future unfolds
These residents, heroes to us all, gave to their communities with bravery and dignity to preserve the safety and well-being of those around them. It is certainly nice to know that after many years of giving of themselves to others, they are receiving the finest care possible and are treated with the respect and honor they deserve for their service.
Sharon Jarchin is President of Sharon Jarchin Health Care Marketing, in Huntington, New York. The firm specializes in strategic marketing, advertising, public relations, and referral programs for nursing facilities. She can be reached at (631) 427-7188.
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