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Local News

April 24, 2014

Wanted: Volunteer firefighters

Fire station doors will rise this weekend for open houses, demonstrations and other activities as part of a statewide recruitment effort.

Area volunteer departments need not only firefighters but also emergency medical technicians, equipment operators, administrative assistants and more, Kevin Ritton, coordinator of the Otsego County Office of Emergency Services, said Wednesday.

Many of the 29 departments in Otsego County, plus others in Delaware, Chenango and Schoharie counties, are participating in the fourth annual RecruitNY Weekend of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York. Participating stations and their events are listed through links at www.recruit.org.

FASNY organizers said they expect participation Saturday and Sunday to exceed the almost 600 departments that held events last year.

Volunteer firefighters protect communities in many scenarios: fires, hurricanes, blizzards and floods, gas leaks and medical emergencies, said James Burns, FASNY president. 

“We are your local small business owners, police officers, students and computer programmers,” Burns said in a prepared statement. “Volunteer firefighters are neighbors helping neighbors. And we are looking for some more neighbors to join our ranks.”

In 2000, there were about 110,000 volunteer firefighters in the state, a number that dropped to 85,000 in 2010, Burns said. In 2011, FASNY established a recruitment and retention effort, funded by a Department of Homeland Security grant, titled Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response that includes RecruitNY Weekend.

Although departments have signed up 12,500 recruits in the past three years, the result barely offsets loss from age, retirement and population shifts, Burns said. Another 15,000 to 20,000 firefighters would help maintain staffing levels in the coming years, he said.

“We can never have too many volunteers,” Burns said.

Firefighters and other department volunteers serve without pay. Burns said statewide studies show that by providing these services on an unpaid basis, volunteer firefighters and their departments save New Yorkers about $2.8 billion in salary and benefits, equipment and general operations costs per year, which doesn’t include new fire engines or ladder trucks.

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