The latest recruitment pitch for new volunteer firefighters across New York State is aimed at more than just the brave souls willing to race into burning homes and businesses.
That was the clear message relayed by state and local fire officials Monday as they kicked off an effort to boost the number of new volunteers across the state.
This weekend, many New York volunteer fire companies will open their doors to the community to provide more information about the variety of volunteer skills needed. Those open houses include 27 scheduled at volunteer fire companies and emergency squads in Erie County, according to Earl R. “Tiger” Schmittendorf Jr., deputy fire coordinator in the Erie County Department of Emergency Services.
“We want to encourage folks to visit the fire department open houses in their neighborhood to explore all the great opportunities available in serving their community, some of which have nothing to do with running into burning buildings,” Schmittendorf said.
Those opportunities include non-emergency administrative and support roles, rescue efforts, emergency medical services, and fire and police work.
“From accounting to auto mechanics and everything in between, if you have the time, the talent, the skill, the experience or just the interest in serving your community, we encourage you to reach out to your volunteer fire department or emergency squad and explore all the great opportunities,” Schmittendorf said. “Firefighting isn’t for everyone, but volunteering can be.”
On Monday, Robert N. McConville, president of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, and Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz joined local emergency services and fire officials at a news conference to promote RecruitNY Open House Weekend. A list of the available fire stations open Saturday and Sunday can be found on RecruitNY.org by clicking on “Participation in Your Area.”
Many people may be aware that the number of volunteer firefighters across New York had declined sharply and steadily over two or three decades until about 2010, from something like 110,000 to somewhere between 80,000 and 90,000, according to various reports. But the public may be less aware of the fairly recent comeback in those numbers, which have climbed back to the 110,000 neighborhood.
Daniel J. Neaverth Jr., Erie County’s commissioner of emergency services, stated in a news release that such partnership and recruiting efforts have helped stabilize the number of volunteer firefighters statewide.
“Closer to home, these recruitment and retention efforts have actually shown a tremendous reversal of declining numbers and, for many departments, significant staffing improvements,” Neaverth said.
Recruitment efforts also include two other initiatives cited Monday:
• Erie County is launching a new website, iVolunteerEMS.org, to attract new people into one of the county’s five volunteer emergency squads or the many volunteer fire companies that also provide emergency medical services.
• Soldierfirefighter.com represents an attempt to attract members of the armed forces to volunteer firefighting, allowing them to move from serving their nation to serving their community. That may be a natural fit, Schmittendorf said, pointing out that veterans and volunteer firefighters may share some of the same values.
But there’s also another goal there.
“When you look at the PTSD and, unfortunately, the suicide rates for returning veterans, we have both an opportunity and an obligation to welcome them and their families into our fire service family,” Schmittendorf said, “and we think we can save lives by doing that.”