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NYS short on volunteer firefighters

Gates, N.Y. - The number of volunteer firefighters in New York State continues its decline.

For the fourth year now the Firemen's Association of the State of New York, or FASNY, is holding a weekend of recruitment at the end of the month.

"At the time when we started this project the numbers had declined to around 85,000 from a number of 110,000 back in 2000," said FASNY President James Burns. "So our efforts are starting to work but it doesn't mean we're home free because we lose as many members as we retain every year."

It's a shrinking brotherhood, and the Gates Fire Department is feeling the effects. The decrease is not for lack of pride, but for lack of volunteers.

"If we go back about five years our volunteer fire force was around 80," said Chief Jim Harrington, "and again in that five year period we're down to 49 [volunteers]."

The Gates Fire Department averages 3,600 calls each year - a number is up from about 1,900 five years ago.

"This year on an average structure fire assignment we're down about four volunteer members," said Harrington, "and that equates to a crew on one fire engine."

The recruitment coordinator for the Gates Fire Department, Lt. Steven Giverson, said in recent years they've turned to schools and churches looking for recruits.

"We get a lot of word of mouth, some of the best recruitment tools that I have are firefighters that I work day to day with," said Giverson. "Actually [in] this recruitment class we had about six people that brought in people they knew, and that is always a big help." 

Finding volunteers isn't the only problem stations are facing. Retention is also becoming difficult.

"With the younger more mobile society the kids or the younger individuals that come into the organization they're constantly on the move," said Harrington. "Whether it's for career, for education or just moving to different locations outside our fire district."

Departments offer their volunteers a variety of incentives like tax rebates and tuition assistance.

The FASNY 'RecruitNY' weekend is April 26th and 27th.

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Washington Times