A federal grant worth more than half a million dollars was awarded to the Akron Fire Company in Erie County to offer tuition reimbursements as an incentive to recruit new volunteer firefighters or encourage former volunteers to return to the ranks.
Akron Fire Company President Keith Hochreiter said the company has 50 members and would like to increase its membership to 75.
He said some of the funds, which will be allocated over the next four years, will be used to purchase multi-media training equipment, such as a Smart Board, and fitness equipment. But the lion’s share of the money will be used for a tuition reimbursement program.
The Akron Fire Company, founded in 1876, is contracted with the Village of Akron and Town of Newstead to provide fire protection and emergency response to more than 4,200 residents and various businesses.
Hochreiter said the company will be recruiting in the Akron School District, offering to reimburse college tuitions to recent and former graduates who are attending both two and four-year colleges. He said funds will also be available to members of the community who want to go back for professional training or certifications.
“If they join the fire company they will be able to go back for professional development, as long as they have gone through training and are members in good standing,” he said.
The grant, from the Department of Homeland Security, was announced by U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Hochreiter said Erie County, as well as the Fire Association of the State of New York, have offered similar tuition reimbursement programs in the past. He said Akron had a successful tuition reimbursement program about four or five years ago.
“A lot of people today say, ‘What can you do for me?’ instead of, ‘What can I do for the betterment of the community?’ To attract those kinds of people and teach them about that attitude and that shift in mind-set is something we hope to incorporate (in our training,) whether they stay with the Akron Fire Company or move on,” said Hochreiter. “If they live somewhere else and become a volunteer firefighter in that community, that means we have been successful.”
He said there will begin to offer the tuition reimbursement program in the next 90 days. More about the program how you can become an Akron Fire Company volunteer is on their website at www.akronfireco.com