SOUTH SALEM, N.Y. -- South Salem firefighters do so much more than just put out fires; they also have been known to promote cultural understanding between folks from different countries, says Maryanne D’Amato.
D’Amato, who works for an international agency that provides local families with child care, herded a gaggle of au pairs into the hamlet’s firehouse on Wednesday, Jan. 11, for a home safety presentation and tour of the facility.
The young women hailed from several European countries, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, D’Amato said.
(There are also male au pairs. They generally range in age from 18 to 26, she added.)
Part of D’Amato’s duties are to check in with the families who have hired the au pairs, to make sure everything’s going okay, that rules and regulations are being followed, and to take them out once a month to do something cultural.
(In the summer, the au pairs take water safety lessons, essential for when they take their young charges swimming.)
Firefighters Steve Creeden Tom Mertens spoke to the group about things like when and how to call 911, how smoke and carbon dioxide alarms work and how to have an evacuation plan in case of a fire. They also asked them how emergency situations were handled in their own countries.
The au pairs also got to climb around on the firetrucks and other equipment and try on uniforms something they, D’Amato said, “absolutely loved.”
But the best part of all was when the firefighters invited the au pairs to come back with their host children, she said.
“They were thrilled because they knew their little boys and girls would just die to get a chance to see a firetruck up close,” she said.
Creeden and Mertens were “so welcoming and fantastic,” said D’Amato, adding: “The girls just adored them.”
Cultural Care Au Pair, which is based in Boston, works with young women and men from 27 different countries.
While they come to the United States on an educational visa and do take classes for credit, many have college degrees.
Working on improving English skills may be part of it, but the most important thing, D’Amato said, is the cultural exchange.
Most of them, although they are here working, do get very close with their host families.
“They bring the world with them and they take the American experience back with them when they go home.”
The au pairs get a small stipend plus room and board.
They generally stay a year, but have the option to increase their commitment by six, eight or another 12 months.
“It’s like hosting an exchange student, but someone who’ll watch the kids,” D’Amato said.
D'Amato can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.