Mike Cooper is a lifelong resident of Pine Plains, NY, where he works as a teacher, coach, and recreation director. He currently serves as the Second Lieutenant in the Pine Plains Fire Co., but he has been an interior firefighter (which means he goes inside the structures while they are on fire) since joining the hose company in 2017 and has been an EMT since 2020.
Mike first decided to join the volunteer fire department out of a “deep desire to make a difference.” Mike says that “I had witnessed some tragic events in my life and on the news … and I came to the realization that if I wanted to have a positive impact, it had to begin right here in my community.”
During this time, Mike had just started his new job as a health and physical education teacher at Stissing Mountain Jr./Sr. High School, and he felt that for him, it was not only important to “teach the values of health and well-being, but also model them.” He says that serving in this role allowed him to lead by example and “demonstrate the importance” of community service.
Mike’s journey as a member of the Pine Plains Fire Co. has been filled with many memorable moments, some of which are very happy, while others are very sad. “The experiences, both good and bad, will stay with me for a lifetime,” Mike says. “They serve as a constant reminder of the profound impact we can have on people’s lives, no matter the circumstances.”
However, he says that if he had to pick one memorable moment, it would be his experience in the New York State Firefighter 1 course. Mike spent over 130 hours across four months learning the skills necessary to be an interior firefighter and was also able to meet a lot of people from around Dutchess County.
His time with the fire department has impacted him in many different ways. It taught him the power of “selflessness, teamwork, and resilience,” and that he’s also become a “stronger and more compassionate person.”
“The perspective I’ve gained from responding to emergencies over the years has given me a profound sense of composure and resilience,” Mike says. “It’s a transformation that extends beyond my role in the fire department and EMS and has positively impacted various aspects of my life.”
The most rewarding part of being a part of the fire department is the opportunity to make a positive impact in the community. “Knowing that I am able to serve when someone needs it most is an incredible feeling,” he says.
Additionally, Mike also gets to volunteer alongside some incredible members of the community. For him, this especially includes the holiday parade with Santa every year.
“It’s a unique experience that brings joy to our community,” he says. “And for the sake of any young readers, I won’t share how close Santa and I really are.”
Although it’s a 24/7 job, Mike says that the combination of the desire to help others and paying it forward encourages him to continue being a member of the volunteer fire department. He shares that when he was younger, he suffered from a severe asthma attack. “If it wasn’t for the volunteers on our rescue squad back then, I might not be here. That experience, as well as my upbringing, drives me to be there for others in their time of need,” he says. “Knowing that every life I can touch is a chance to give back and make a difference. I also believe that it’s important to help those who cannot help themselves, and if you can do something, you should.”
Mike also mentions that volunteer fire departments everywhere are in need of members. “Stop in at your local fire house and ask about joining. Our department meets every Monday at 6 p.m. for drills, and if you decide to join, we will train you how to do any of the jobs we perform. If you don’t have the time or capability to fight fires and respond to emergencies, we also have an auxiliary that supports the other aspects of our mission.”
To learn more about the Pine Plains Fire Co. or if you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, give them a call at (518) 398-1311 or visit their website at https://www.pineplains-ny.gov/fire-district-information/.
Pine Plains Fire Co.
7 Lake Road, Pine Plains, NY 12567