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Will bad press ruin local fire departments?

Camillus Fire Department President Jesse Norcross last week addressed the Camillus Town Board to tell the other side of a well-publicized story of conflict between the CFD and Fairmount Fire Department.

In the last year, the local media has shone a spotlight on apparent conflicts between volunteer fire departments throughout the county, highlighting perhaps more than any an alleged feud between Camillus and Fairmount fire departments.

"As President of the Camillus Fire Department, I felt it was important that I address you tonight in light of the recent media attention cast upon the emergency response departments that provide protection to the town of Camillus ," Norcross said. The same statement was also read into the minutes of the village of Camillus board meeting the same night.

He went on to dispute several points made by the daily press and offer the CFD perspective on issues that have been at the center of controversy in recent months.

Unlike some industries, volunteer fire departments face little risk of losing business in light of negative publicity or lack of customer confidence -- but indirectly, departments could suffer if community members become less willing to volunteer their time and efforts to becoming members.

In 2007, the National Fire Protection Agency reported that numbers of volunteer firefighters were at a 13-year high nationwide. Keeping those numbers on the rise is a big concern for all-volunteer departments, and the perception of a department within the community plays a significant role in the willingness of volunteers to participate.

"It is difficult to attract members to make such a commitment as being a volunteer firefighter. It takes a lot of time. Once they are trained, the next task for an organization is keeping members active and involved," Norcross said in an e-mail. "Negative press, especially slanted media exposure, can be completely demoralizing if you, as an organization, are not ready to lead your members through it with pride and dignity."

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