The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

April 24, 2014

Wanted: Volunteer firefighters

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — 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.

Ritton, Westford assistant fire chief, said Westford, Worcester, East Worcester and Schenevus departments work together and will have open houses at their stations at the same time from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday. Equipment will be on display, he said, and information will be available about volunteering.

“We can find work for anybody who is interested in joining,” Ritton said. “There’s room for everybody.”

Departments need crews not only to be “interior firefighters” but also to operate pumpers and other equipment, Ritton said. Training to become an interior firefighter takes about 80 to 90 hours, he said, and training for someone providing “scene support” takes 27 hours.

EMTs also are needed, he said, and the state pays the $825 fee for department members who wish to take the certification course, which is about 150 to 160 hours, Ritton said.

Visitors interested in volunteering may contact their local fire department or, in Otsego County, call the Office of Emergency Services at 547-4227, Ritton said. RecruitNY Weekend gives people a chance to see how taxpayer dollars are spent and to say “thank you” to volunteers, he said.