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December 1, 2003

Chasing Fires and Trading Stocks: An American volunteer spirit that survives in small towns.

By Gregory Bresiger

Sometimes good things can come out of even the worst evil imaginable.

On September 11, 2001, so many people in America - shocked and disgusted by the acts of terrorism they were watching that killed some 2,700 people - wanted to volunteer and help their country.

Many did.

One of them was Brandon Wexler, a 33-year old institutional trader for Charles Schwab Capital Markets in Jersey City. He was at work, just across the river from lower Manhattan, on that day of infamy that Americans of this generation will never forget.

"I witnessed it all from our offices. It was a scary thing watching those firefighters at the World Trade Center," Wexler said. "That sparked my interest in wanting to help people."


Wexler is a trader with close to a decade in the securities business. He entered it almost straight out of college. Wexler grew up in a small suburb of Philadelphia in which there was a volunteer fire company.

Soon after the tragic events at the towers in New York City, Wexler decided it was time to help a hometown organization. He decided to join the Chatham Boro Fire Department. It is a fire company with a long tradition of service. Chatham is a small suburban community in Morris County, in northwest New Jersey.

Wexler went through a 12-week training course at the Morris County Fire Academy. He took the same courses as firefighters who make a living in this line of work. Wexler says volunteers also have to go through an extensive application process. "You have a big interview process and a rigorous physical fitness test, you must be approved by the town," he said.

Wexler, a volunteer firefighter for more than 12-months, has responded to the same fire and accident calls as any other paid firefighter. He volunteers about 20 hours a month as a firefighter. But he is also ready to answer calls at all hours of the day and night. He is assigned to a hook and ladder truck.

Since he became a volunteer, Wexler says he has gone out on almost every kind of call. This includes car accidents in which he has used the jaws of live equipment to help save a person's life.

Wexler spends a lot of time in Chatham borough and always carries a pager so he can immediately respond. He does not carry the pager at the trading desk, so he does not have to respond from Jersey City.

"I live about a block from the firehouse so as soon as I get a call, I go directly to the firehouse, get my gear and immediately go out on a call," Wexler said.

The Chatham fire department has some 40 active firefighters. There is one paid firefighter in the department. Wexler says there has never been a problem obtaining enough volunteers in his town.

"You do have a lot of volunteer spirit in this town," Wexler said. "And you have all sorts of people who are part of this."

"I work on Wall Street, but you also have an ironworker, you have a guy who works for the town in the Department of Public Works," he added. "It is a very diverse group."

More importantly than a wide cross-section of the community, Wexler says there "is always enough people to answer calls." Besides fire calls, there is a once a week meeting of the company. And there are also various community events in which the fire company participates. "We do a lot of events for kids, including sessions on fire safety. I like that a lot because I like kids," Wexler said.

A Nice Match

Wexler, who is single and recently bought a home in Chatham, says he is lucky because his work and volunteer firefighting schedules dovetail. "I leave for work at 6:30 in the morning. But usually I am home in the early evening so things work out very well for me," he said.

And it works out well for the small town that Wexler loves. The spirit of volunteerism is alive and well in his community in New Jersey.