Story by Sara Paul
Councilman, fireman, family man, working man, and, for those who know Jim Gerstner, just a kind, friendly, and funny man.
This year, Gerstner, 62, celebrates 43 years as a member of the Warwick Fire Department (WFD), 20 years as Town of Warwick Councilman, 16 years as a small business owner, and one very busy year as the President of the Orange County Volunteer Firemen’s Association (OCVFA).
When asked how he juggles a leisure-free life wearing multiple hats, Jim’s secret to success is simple: “My wife does everything. She’s the one that keeps me and our home going,” said Jim of his wife of 35 years, Kathy. Between them, the couple has six children and 11 grandchildren, with number 12 on the way.
The Warwick native is looking forward to the 104th OCVFA Parade, which, this year, coincides with 150th anniversary of the WFD who is hosting the parade. The parade is the culmination of a number of events over the course of this year, including a memorial service for eight Orange County members who have passed away.
The parade, which always takes place on the fourth Saturday in September, represents the President’s outgoing celebration, a one-year term that ends at the official installation dinner on Nov. 1. Gerstner will pass his President’s badge to incoming president Robert Reynolds, Sr. of Montgomery.
Gerstner, who feels privileged and honored to become the third Vice-President (VP) of the OCVFA in the summer of 2016 after the loss of Jeffrey Schadt of the Hooks, second VP in 2017, first in 2018, and finally president in 2019. He was also President of the Fire Chief’s Association of Orange County in 2015.
He was Captain of Raymond Hose Co. from 1988 to 1990, past VP, President and Secretary of the Raymond’s, and is currently a trustee. He served as WFD Fire Chief from 1994 to 1996, and along with first Asst. Chief John Orr and second Asst. Chief Phil Miller, held two parades – 1996 was the 100th anniversary of Raymond Hose, of which he has been a member since Sept. 7, 1976 and still drives the engine.
In May, 1999, Gerstner was elected as Town of Warwick Councilman, and serves as liaison to recreation; information technology; Cable Vision; and to the Village of Warwick. He was also appointed as Deputy Town Supervisor in 2005. As a devoted Council member, Gerstner is proud of the Board’s efforts to implement the Public Development Rights (PDR) program and also looks forward to bringing more businesses to the area, providing both jobs and tax revenue.
Gerstner’s day job is an election data specialist with the O.C. Board of Elections in Goshen. Previously he spent two years at a fire inspection company and has also operated his own business since 2003.
Born & Raised in Warwick
An only child, James Edward Gerstner, was born in St. Anthony Community Hospital on Oct. 1, 1957 to his parents, Catherine Patricia “Pat” Sinsabaugh, of Warwick, and Edward Peter, of Queens, NY, who purchased one of the model homes in Wickham Village on Kings Hwy. around 1958.
Jim graduated from Warwick Valley High School in 1975, and one week later went to work as a bank teller at the Warwick Savings Bank. He attended Orange County Community College, taking business and computer courses, and joined the WFD in 1976. The WFD quickly became a priority.
“I had much more fun hanging at the fire department then hanging out at college,” he admitted, recalling one the biggest blazes he battled in 1995.
That evening, Jim happened to be at a wake for Ex-Chief Calvin Gilbert when a fire broke out at a building at the old Mid-Orange Correctional Facility. Adorned in his full dress, Class A uniform, Jim and department raced to the flames.
“You could see the smoke in the sky. It was really going and really bad,” describes Jim, who later jested with Chief Jason Brasier, who had arguably battled an even bigger blaze at Mid-State Lumber.
“Sure, he had the biggest fire, but we had the best dressed one,” chuckles Jim, who, on a serious note, remembers a long night and longer day, before returning home almost 24 hours after arriving at the scene of the lumber fire.
‘The Gerstner Bunch’
In 1979, Jim left his teller post and joined the staff of Big V Supermarkets, working as a computer operator, then Programmer, in the company’s corporate offices in Florida, NY for 23 years. It was there that he met a beautiful data entry clerk named Kathy. The couple married in 1984.
With Kathy’s three daughters and the addition of their three sons, the Gerstners formed their own version of the popular TV show, “The Brady Bunch.” “The Gerstner Bunch,” includes daughters Kimberly, Kristina, and Kelli, and sons, James, Jr., Benjamin, and Dylan.
As NASCAR enthusiasts, Jim and Kathy used to take their fifth wheel camper to racing events in Dover, DE every spring and fall, though these days they are a bit too busy for those trips. They try to get to Pennsylvania to spend time at their camper.
With a natural proclivity towards technology, Jim started his own business, JBD Telecom, Inc., in March 2003. Specializing in phone installations and repairs, networking, and other aspects of technological repair and installations, Jim has enjoyed his business, as he reflects on the important role of technology in both the FD and in life.
“I’m a little geeky, but I’m actually just a ‘dumb guy with a smart phone’,” Gerstner said, quoting a friend. He lauds such cellular phone applications as Rover, an app that the WFD uses to communicate fire locations, members responding and due at the site, and messages to fellow firefighters.
When he was fire chief, Gerstner had a bag phone and three channels on a low band radio. Now, the phone is on his hip, radios are high and ultra high band, more communications towers and more radios in district vehicles.
“It’s a blessing and a curse. I have seven e-mail accounts on my phone!” said Gerstner.
He also proactively purchased Internet domain names for Town of Warwick and the Warwick FD in the 1990s.
With his cell phone ringing, his e-mails piling up, and his to-do list growing, Jim pauses for a moment and simply states, “I just try to do what I can. I’ve been in two places at once, but never three… well, not yet. I’m not anyone special… I’m just trying to help.”