Volunteer Fire departments in Onondaga County and across the state will open their doors this weekend in hopes of adding new members to their ranks. The seventh annual Recruit NY campaign gives residents a chance to talk with firefighters about various volunteer opportunities and to see firefighting demonstrations. Firemen’s Association of the State of New York President Ken Pienkowski says more volunteers are needed to ensure the protection of New Yorkers without additional cost to taxpayers.
"Today's firefighters are responding to more calls than ever before. And these calls are increasingly diverse," Pienkowski said. "Our volunteers answer calls for medical emergencies, flooded basements, downed power lines, automobile accidents, and, of course, fires.”
Pienkowski says the number of volunteers in New York dropped significantly between 1980 and 2011 due to the changing workforce, training requirements, and family demands. He says Recruit NY and a federal grant have helped to boost volunteer numbers to the current 110,000, but there’s always a need for more as members retire or move on. Onondaga County’s Commissioner of Emergency Management and former volunteer firefighter Dan Wears says it was a rewarding experience to help his community.
“It doesn't matter if we have the best equipment and resources available, we also need the manpower to answer the calls and to utilize that equipment," Wears said. "The volunteers in these organizations are the most important asset they have. Departments are in need of volunteers for many facets of their operations, and opportunities exist beyond being a firefighter.”
Those opportunities include working on the business side of the operation. Cicero Fire Department Chief Jon Barrett says people can decide what area they would like to volunteer in and most departments will help them find a time that works.
“The biggest challenge is getting them to understand what we expect of them. We provide the training, we provide the gear. We'll work around your schedule.”
Barrett says many community members do not know that nearly all 58 fire departments in Onondaga County are not staffed with paid personnel, but rather run entirely by volunteers. Pienkowski with FASNY says that saves taxpayers a fortune.
“New York's volunteer firefighters not only protect the lives of their fellow New Yorkers, they protect their wallets as well. In fact, volunteer firefighters save taxpayers in New York State over $3 billion annually.”
Twenty-eight fire departments in Onondaga County are participating in open houses this weekend. A full list can be found at recruitny.org.