Every Friday night, Jonathan Hefter leaves the Manhattan office of Neverware, the tech start-up he founded last spring, and takes the train to Woodmere, on New York's Long Island, where he spends the weekend responding to auto accidents, downed wires, and the occasional fire. Hefter joined the 70-member Woodmere Volunteer Fire Department as a college sophomore. After graduating in 2009, he volunteered with the department full time and worked on his company, a developer of cloud-based computer desktops, in the basement of his parents' Woodmere home. He has since moved to Manhattan, but he still volunteers in Woodmere on weekends, staying with his parents. When he gets a call on his radio, Hefter, 25, drives to the station and jumps behind the wheel of a 43-foot-long rig that weighs 40 tons and is equipped with a 110-foot aerial ladder. On a typical weekend, he responds to three or four calls. Most involve nonfire emergencies, though Hefter has fought several structural fires. "This is my way of giving back to my community," he says.
After high school, Hefter spent a year training as a rescue diver and working as an EMT in Israel. After joining the Woodmere Volunteer Fire Department, he trained for two weeks at the Nassau County Fire Service Academy on Long Island.
As a rookie firefighter in Woodmere, Hefter crawled into a storm drain to save a kitten. "It felt like something out of a storybook," he recalls.