Saturday, 15 September 2018 23:29

OP ED: Volunteers Are Backbones of Local Fire Departments

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New York is heavily dependent on volunteer fire departments for fire protection.

According to the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY), 89% of the state’s fire departments outside of the New York City area are volunteer. Their commitment to volunteer fire protection provides both a critical life-savings service to communities and a tremendous cost savings to area taxpayers.

A recent study by FASNY attempted to place a monetary value on volunteer firefighters. The study estimates taxpayers outside of New York City save $3.5 billion annually in pay, benefits, operating and maintenance costs thanks to the collective contributions of volunteer firefighters. Further, FASNY estimates that if paid fire fighters were to replace the thousands of volunteers, taxpayers would see a statewide average property tax increase of 26.5%. For our small and rural communities, the volunteer service they provide is invaluable.

Recruitment and retention are always a concern for local fire departments and as a result they are continually looking for more people to join the ranks. Since 1984, the number of volunteers has fallen by 12%. To help prevent further losses and introduce the opportunity to younger generations, an annual coordinated effort known as RecruitNY was established in 2011. Each April, FASNY, New York State Association of Fire Chiefs, Association of Fire Districts of New York State, Volunteer Fire Police Association of the State of New York and County Fire Coordinators Association of the State of New York work together to host open houses to recruit new volunteers. According to FASNY since RecruitNY began, the number of firefighters in the state has increased by 20,000, bringing the total number of volunteer firefighters to 110,000. These efforts are working but locally, there is still a great need.

In October, local firefighters will be out in the public once again in coordination with National Fire Prevention Month. During this time, firefighters--paid and volunteer--teach young children about the basics of fire safety and open their departments to the public. These open houses provide a good opportunity for anyone considering volunteering at their local fire department to meet the people who help keep our communities safe.

All firefighters, paid or volunteer, provide invaluable service and help save lives. Their selfless devotion to their communities and its residents is admirable and the public is indebted to their service. They are the true heroes in our communities and we are blessed to have them. To learn about volunteer firefighting, residents may contact their county fire coordinator. Oswego County residents can call 315-349-8800. Onondaga County residents should call 315-435-2525 and Jefferson County residents may call 315-786-2654. To learn more about volunteering, visit the New York State Homeland Security and Emergency Services website at http://www.dhses.ny.gov/ofpc/faq/firehowto.cfm.

If you have any questions or comments regarding this or any other state issue, please contact me. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at barclaw@nyassembly.gov, or by calling (315) 598-5185. You also can friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.

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