Tioga County isn’t alone in its need for more volunteer firefighters. Virtually every department, especially those more rural, is in need of more help. The South Side Fire Company’s Chief David Rathke remarks, “Volunteers are always needed, and we can find a job for just about anyone.”
And his voice is bearing the same tone as chiefs everywhere.
The volunteer fire service has seen a steady decline in membership in recent years. Frank Okrasinski, retired chief, has observed this in more than 30 years fighting fires. He stated how most calls these days require multiple departments to respond, highlighting the use of mutual aid agreements.
These agreements allow two or more departments to help each other with apparatus and more manpower when they do not have enough response of their own. The decline is also creating specialized teams comprised of members from multiple departments such as water rescue, technical rescue and Hazmat. When any one of these services is needed, members from all over the county come together to accomplish the task. With all these demands, it’s no wonder why help is needed.
There are many factors that play into its shortage, including the demands being at the ready places on these men and women. Many families today have become two-income households, making it difficult to have one person home with the kids, for example, while the other responds to an emergency. It can sometimes be tedious to fit training, meetings, and fundraisers into an already hectic workday and night.
Training is of the utmost importance, yet getting time off from work can prove to be quite the task from some employers. Some states have passed legislation preventing employers from penalizing volunteers who were made late to work due to responding to an emergency, within reason.
However, this doesn’t help when trying to get time off for training. Along with keeping a regular training schedule, there are many times that special training nights for refreshing certificates are needed.
There is a solution to this problem, getting more volunteers. But getting there is no easy task. Many young men and women aren’t aware of just how fun and rewarding it can be to be a part of the big family that is the brotherhood of firefighting.
Along with the family atmosphere, firefighters can receive benefits such as tax breaks, scholarships, and free training. There are more ways to get involved than just suiting up and going inside.
Many departments also serve as first responder units and operate ambulances, allowing those interested in helping on the medical side. Some departments have other areas such as the ladies auxiliary, emergency support services, water rescue teams, and forestry fire fighting.
The Firefighters Association of the State of New York (FASNY) provides departments with recruitment ideas and materials, and even advertises recruitment events. RecruitNY is an ongoing effort by FASNY and other entities to promote citizens interest in getting involved. The annual recruitment weekend is scheduled statewide April 25-26. Many local departments are participating and you can find the latest list at www.recruitny.org/participation-area. If your local department is not on that list, don’t be hesitant to stop by the station and ask for an application, as you will be met with open arms if you want to become a part of the family.