CHATHAM–Four local fire departments might be tackling the problem in different ways but they share the same issue–a lack of volunteers coupled with an aging membership. And their message is the same: “We need help.”
“We need volunteers. We have some older firefighters, they are going to age out,” said David Levow, a firefighter and recruitment coordinator with the Chatham Fire Department. “We need younger ones going through the pipeline. We need officers. We always need the young coming in. We want to keep the pipeline full.”
This year’s recruitment in Chatham has been boosted by Mr. Levow’s neighbor, Doug Welch, of Chatham, a retired creative director at an ad agency in New York City. “I told him when he retires he needs to come help with our recruitment efforts,” Mr. Levow recalled. “This past fall he said he was ready. He said what we really needed was to personalize the campaign. He came up with the idea. The theme being ‘We Need Help.’”
In previous years, Chatham Fire has taken a “family portrait,” Mr. Levow said. Mr. Welch used this photo to select the firefighters he thought would be most appropriate to appear in the ads. Mr. Welch called in photographer friend Peter Zander from Ashville, North Carolina, and the two spent a day shooting with the department.
“The two of them sorted through 6,000 pictures to come up with a dozen or so that you see in the ads,” Mr. Levow said. The ads are featured in rotation on two billboards in Chatham; on the screen at the Crandall Theatre; and in area publications, among other locations.
The situation is just as worrisome for Ghent Volunteer Fire Company No. 1.
“It’s harder and harder to find volunteers,” said firefighter Scott Wilson. “I think people believe the Fire Department has all the volunteers they need.” That’s far from true, he said, adding that fire departments are faced with young parents having less time to donate to fire department activities and older firefighters needing to step down from active firefighting.
“We really have to make it obvious we need help,” Mr. Wilson said.
People of all backgrounds and abilities are welcome to volunteer. “Firefighting today isn’t brute strength,” he said. “I encourage women to become firefighters. There’s not much in this world a woman can’t do if she trains and has the same opportunities.”
Ghent has focused its recruitment efforts on posters and getting the message in front of young people at schools and vocational schools.
In Claverack, A.B. Shaw Fire Company’s recruitment letters have been sent to residents of the fire district. And that’s just the beginning, as Chief Brennan Keeler plans to ramp up recruitment efforts through social media in the coming months.
Mr. Keeler said there is something for anyone at A.B. Shaw. “They don’t have to be interior firefighters,” he said. “They can be fire police. Company officers. Help around the station. They can be 8 or 80.”
And if youth are the key to fire department futures–the junior firefighter programs welcome new members, Mr. Keeler said. To join A.B. Shaw’s Explorer program, youth must be at least 14 and must have completed the eighth grade. Mr. Keeler said the programs have been around for at least 30 years and are run through the Boy Scouts.
Speaking of youth, Philmont Fire Company #1 throughout the year has a unique way of introducing the fire service to children. The fire company provides concession at the town park during Taconic Hills Little League and provides a scholarship for Dollars for Scholars.
“We give the kids a good general impression of the fire service,” said Chief Mark Beaumont, regarding the concession. “In addition, we give back to the kids in our community [with] a scholarship each year at Taconic Hills Dollars for Scholars to kids pursuing a professional career.”
Philmont will participate in the RecruitNY campaign the last weekend in April, Mr. Beaumont said. “We will be holding an open house with games and refreshments,” he said. “We will be having fire and EMS education and demonstrations. Tables will be set up with complete information on firefighting and membership. We welcome all and encourage children to be accompanied by a parent.”
Want to answer the call?
Philmont Chief Beaumont briefly outlined the steps to join Philmont Fire. Members can be classified as interior or exterior firefighters, fire police, or emergency medical technicians and emergency medical responders. You must:
● Reside in the fire district.
● Be 18 years old or older.
● Pass a firefighter physical and a background check.
“Then you must meet with the fire company trustees to review your intentions,” Mr. Beaumont said. “Upon approval, you will need to be voted in as a member at the next company meeting.”
Once voted in, members have a year to complete fire school, EMS training, or fire police training, Mr. Beaumont said. There are also benefits to volunteering. “As a new member you will be offered firefighter benefits (LOSAP) and encouraged to remain active,” Mr. Beaumont said. “Also a new member, regardless of age, can receive full college tuition for two years at a community college within 60 miles from home.”
Training requirements vary in length. An interior firefighter requires roughly 120 hours of training, according to Mr. Levow of the Chatham Department. Exterior firefighters, who work primarily with hoses, ladders and hydrants and who don’t enter buildings, require about 80 hours, he said.
If you want to volunteer, contact your local fire department for details and requirements. Some may vary depending on the municipality. For links to fire department websites, visit the Columbia County Office of the Fire Coordinator website at www.ccfirecoordinator.weebly.com/fire-dept-links.html.
Tri-Village Fire Co. teams up with FASNY RecruitNY Drive
(Editor’s note: After interviews for the story above were completed, we also received word of recruitment by Tri-Valley Fire Company.)
TRI-VILLAGE FIRE COMPANY is looking for dedicated volunteers who live or work in Malden Bridge, Old Chatham or Chatham Center. The public is invited to an open house hosted by Tri-Village on Saturday, April 27 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at TVFC Station 1, 111 County Route 13, Old Chatham.
All are welcome! Find out about the commitment and training required to become a volunteer firefighter plus the rewards of serving with a professional level all-volunteer “family” like no other. Or, just come to see what we do and how we do it. Members will answer questions and offer a look at the station and equipment.
At 11 a.m. the TVFC Emergency Medical Services will conduct an EMS drill. Burgers and dogs will be on the grill at noon.
The open house is part of 8th annual statewide RecruitNY event sponsored by The Firefighters Association of the State of New York(FASNY).
Visit www.tvfc.org or Tri-Village Fire Company page on Facebook. The FASNY website is www.recruitny.org