This weekend, fire departments across Onondaga County will hold open houses as part of RecruitNY, a statewide effort to recruit more volunteer firefighters.
continued Each volunteer on the fire protection or EMT side saves municipalities thousands of dollars — nationally, volunteers save the nation about $37.2 billion in costs that would have to be paid to career staff.
“It’s an important need in the community,” said John Perkins, chief of the Moyers Corners Fire Department, which covers 31 square miles in the town of Clay. “If no one volunteers, the alternative is a paid service. A lot of communities can’t afford paid service, so your coverage goes from good to little or none if no one volunteers.”
And the need has never been greater. As communities like Cicero and Clay grow, there aren’t enough volunteers to serve the population.
“We need more volunteer firefighters and EMTs to continue providing the high level of service to the community that we have always provided,” Perkins said.
“We need new members to groom the firefighters of tomorrow,” Clay Fire Chief Tim Dickerson said. “It's an important part of keeping our community safe.”
There are many benefits to volunteering, according to local chiefs.
“It’s interesting work,” Perkins said. “You get to meet new people. A lot of our members have gone onto various careers related to the fire service, whether it’s career fire departments or different careers like code enforcement, engineering and such.”
South Bay Fire Department First Assistant Chief David VanNamee agreed that the service instills skills for a multitude of occupations. South Bay covers the town of Cicero.
“The department offers skills and knowledge for career development,” VanNamee said. “I started and progressed in my career through the skills and knowledge made available by being in the fire service. That the fire service has taken me to a higher standard in life and opened plenty of doors for succession.”
Departments also offer monetary benefits.
“We offer free training, free turnout gear, programs for college tuition assistance and various tax incentives,” Dickerson said. “Many department activities are family-oriented so everybody can attend and get to know each other. There are opportunities for everybody. They just need to contact us.”