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April 29, 2013

Fire department showcases benefits of volunteering

By Cheryl Petersen
The Daily Star

---- — Anyone wondering what it takes to become a volunteer firefighter or EMS member could have found out in Hobart this weekend. 

To Hobart Fire Chief Ken Muthig, “training and time” are the two key requirements. 

“Being a firefighter and/or EMT is a lifestyle change, but the positives outweigh the negatives,” Muthg said. “And, because many people don’t know the benefits, New York state designed RecruitNY, to encourage fire departments to band together April 27 and 28 and sponsor open houses.”

Muthig was hosting one such event at his fire house on Saturday. Numerous other RecruitNY events were held locally, among the 591 held statewide. 

RecruitNY was established in 2011 and is supported by 10 entities, including the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs, Association of Fire Districts of New York State, and Youth in the Fire Services. The event is an effort to reverse the recent decline in volunteers by educating and drawing in more members by demonstrating the benefits of volunteer service. 

“We explain to potential recruits that the trainings are free, all the trainings you want,” Muthig joked. “There are also tax breaks, and college tuition reimbursements for the volunteers.” 

As part of its RecruitNY event, the Hobart Fire Department staged an extrication drill Saturday, featuring a mock two-car crash. Firefighters donned their turnout gear and showed what it takes to get inside locked vehicles to assist the “passengers” (in this case, mannequins) trapped inside. 

Spectators watched Muthig direct his colleagues as they employed specific tools and equipment, such as Jaws of Life. Among them was Mindy Larsen-Wright of the emergency squad, a two-year veteran of the department. 

“I wanted to be a part of the community, so I signed up and started training,” she said when asked why she joined. “It makes a person feel good to help someone through an accident and a week later, see them in town, and they say a simple, ‘thank you.’” 

During the extrication drill, Larsen-Wright and co-workers were responsible for stabilizing and transporting to the ambulance the supposedly injured mannequins. Larsen-Wright recently completed 144 hours of training, which, as Muthig suggests, is one of the responsibilities of a volunteer. 

“There are many levels of training,” firefighter Chris Martin explained. “Recruits can choose what best fits their skills.” 

Training includes, but is  not limited to, scene support, bailouts, rope work, survival, interior firefighting and EMS. Volunteers attend meetings, practices and training to ensure they are ready for a variety of scenarios.

But it’s not all hard work for these volunteers. Children and families were among those in attendance on Saturday, munching on hot dogs and exploring the building. 

“It’s a family all right,” Muthig said with a smile. “Some of our volunteers are second-generation volunteers.” 

The effort to reverse the recent decline in volunteers by educating and drawing in more members was evident last week in more 50 counties in the state. The public was shown just what it means to be a volunteer.  Training is conducted at fire departments throughout the region and at the Delaware County training facility in Hamden. Free training is provided so frequently that volunteers can schedule it into their daily lives. Volunteers don’t have to live within the village or town in which they volunteer.