There are approximately 20,000 fewer volunteer firefighters across New York State than there were about fifteen years ago. This week begins an annual effort to recruit more potential volunteers. The Firemen's Association of New York State says its goal is to add another 11,ooo volunteers over the next four years.
Rob Leonard, chair of the association's public relation's committee, says tragedies like the ambush on first responders in Webster last Christmas Eve bring attention to the sacrifice and dedication of firefighters. "In the tragedy of West Webster, one of the firefighters who died had just been down here on Long Island near my home volunteering during Hurricane Sandy. So, whether it's a small trash fire to a raging house fire to a natural disaster to a terrible situation like the members bravely confronted in West Webster, the volunteer fire department is there, 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
There are currently 92,000 volunteer firefighters in New York State, down about 20% over the past fifteen years. While the sluggish economy and demanding work schedules have taken a toll on volunteer service, Leonard says the job can be flexible. "It isn't always 9 to 5, or 4 to 12 in the evening. It could be that you put weekend time in, or you put day time in for a person who works shift work at night. A housewife could join the department, or a stay-at-home dad."
Fire departments across the state will be opening their firehouses the weekend of April 27 and 28 for interested volunteers.