THIS AN EASY editorial to write. What’s difficult is that it has to be written at all. You could call the topic self preservation; then add the preservation of others too. Put another way: Help. Our fire departments need help.
Take this seriously. Columbia County has 32 all-volunteer fire departments. How many are staffed by paid firefighters? 0.
Think about that for a moment. Together, those departments are responsible for the 18 towns, 4 villages and a city in Columbia County. There are six school districts here too, each with its own buildings. The population hovers at around 60,000 depending on the time of day, the season and the weather. There are plenty of flammable structures of wood and modern materials. Have you checked your smoke detector lately?
Our firefighters also back up some of the departments in neighboring counties because our neighbors back up our firefighters when there’s a need. The benefits from this type of mutual aid varies depending on the distance the firefighters have to travel. Every once in a while somebody tries to estimate what it would cost to transition to professional firefighters. The number is so high it’s like toxic waste. It’s also the future.
The demographics can’t be ignored. The census tells us we’re one of the oldest counties in the state. Our fire departments know they have to start recruiting prospects while they’re still in school or have just put down roots here. Our front page story this week discusses the efforts departments around the county are using to recruit not only new firefighters but also back-up and support staff. You don’t have to be fit enough to knock down flames in a multi-alarm fire to make a contribution to the volunteers who undertake firefighting’s most dangerous tasks. There are other, less physically taxing opportunities.
The total dependence on volunteer firefighters throughout the county won’t last forever. But part of the reason we still have these brave people willing to do such dangerous work for no money is the gradual growth of a public safety net of benefits, education and equipment that don’t count as salary. At the same time voters have shown a willingness to fund big ticket items like firefighting apparatus.
These modest incentives will be tested as climate change intensifies. We will need more volunteers with more skills and enough time to help their neighbors when the need is greatest. We want them to know what to do when the elements act in destructive ways none of us have encountered before. Think of the skies on fire in the Northwest. Imagine storm surge on the Hudson River or a year’s worth of rain in a matter of hours.
We don’t expect our firefighters to suddenly become superheroes. We hope they will be able to scale up their responses when small scale emergencies turn catastrophic. To do that they will need training that constantly evolves along with the climate itself.
If you want to help your local fire department, please ask what they need. If you’re not able to volunteer, talk to your neighbors about what they could do. If you have the means, increase your annual contribution. These are really not gifts, they’re investments.
For more information go online to https://www.columbiacountyny.com/ccfc-links.html