The Sparkill-Palisades Fire Department: Up Close and Personal With Joshua Panter

The fire and rescue team of our Palisades community is the John Paulding Engine Company #1 in the Sparkill-Palisades Fire District (SPFD) located on Route 340 in Sparkill. It is a non-profit, fully volunteer fire and emergency organization. Palisadian Joshua Panter joined the SPFD as a volunteer in 2012 at the age of 16 and has had an especially personal relationship with the SPFD ever since.

Being a volunteer firefighter might seem like an unusual choice for a teen, but for Panter, his interest in fire service stemmed from a deep-seated passion for serving others and supporting his community. Over the years, the SPFD became his second family as he climbed the ranks. After serving six years as a firefighter, Panter was promoted to Second Lieutenant in 2018, First Lieutenant in 2020, and Captain and Training Officer in 2023. This March he was promoted to the highest rank, Chief of the Department.

At the annual Palisades Community Center meeting in January, Panter, along with fellow firefighters Michael Yannazonne Jr. and Michael Yannazonne Sr., presented detailed information about the emergency services of the SPFD. In 2023, the SPFD responded to 200 calls, which surpassed the yearly average of 175. As of April 4, 2024 they have answered 60 calls. The emergencies are varied and not exclusively fires. In 2023, they responded to 15 structure fires, 11 calls for smoke in the building, eight brush fires, seven miscellaneous fires (cars, dumpsters, etc.), six serious car accidents requiring the extraction of a trapped or injured victim from a vehicle, and one injured hiker. SPFD also deals with gas leaks, elevator rescues, carbon monoxide alarms, downed power lines and fuel spills. Approximately one in four calls require immediate intervention upon arrival. The SPFD shares a reciprocal response relationship with Orangeburg, Tappan, Piermont, Blauvelt, Nyack, Rockleigh, Northvale, Norwood and Old Tappan fire departments.

SPFD firefighters respond seriously and promptly to all alarms as a potential fire unless proven otherwise, living up to their motto “Expect Fire.” This includes those that turn out to be false alarms. “We hold rigorous training drills every Monday from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm,” states Panter, “and supplement with scheduled weekend exercises.” In 2023, SPFD conducted 57 training exercises, a 25 percent increase over the previous year. The firefighters also keep the station and their four top-of-the-line engines meticulously clean.

Fire calls to 911 are dispatched by 44-Control, which is the Communications Division of the Rockland County Sheriff’s Office in Pomona. Through 44-Control’s Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and Departments Mobile Data Terminal (MDT), firefighters receive critical information regarding the nature of the emergency including the location, caller information, location of the nearest hydrants, and more. This data appears on video screens adjacent to their fire engines.

Currently, the SPFD and the Orangeburg Fire Department are piloting a first-of-its-kind Duty Crew. Traditionally, firefighters carry a pager and head for the station when called, but Panter explains that with Duty Crew “both fire departments will schedule firefighters to dedicated shifts during certain days and times of the week in a joint effort to greatly reduce response times.”

Enticing volunteers to join the force has been a challenge. Recently, SPFD has partnered with St. Thomas Aquinas College to offer a 50 percent tuition scholarship to new volunteers and a 25 percent discount to their family members. So far SPFD has welcomed three new recruits and three existing volunteers have benefited from the program. Volunteer firefighters are also eligible for free tuition at RCC through the Educational Development and Growth for Emergency Services program (EDGES) and for tuition reimbursement through the Higher Education Recruitment and Retention Opportunities program (HERRO).

At the meeting, Panter and his fellow volunteers voiced a few requests for local residents. Make sure your house number is clearly posted. If you have a security system, make sure all your contact phone numbers are updated. If you live on a private road, please keep bushes cut back and potholes filled. Most importantly, if you call in an emergency, clearly state that it is in Rockland County in the Town of Orangetown. Because of our proximity to the Hudson River, some 911 calls are answered in Westchester, so clarifying the location is imperative.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter or would like to arrange a group tour to see the engines and station, please stop by the SPFD any Monday at 7:00 pm, or contact Follow SPFD on Instagram @sparkillpalisadesfire to stay up–to–date with their activities, as well as to receive important announcements. Community support is crucial and the SPTD gratefully accepts tax–deductible donations to support their recruitment, retention and training efforts.