DRYDEN — The number of emergency calls is rising; lifestyles are changing, too. The combination has left the Dryden Fire Department in a lurch and it’s advertising for volunteers.
Fire Chief Mike Hall could not give an exact number of how many people the station needs, but more is always better.
“You can never have enough people,” Hall said.
To get volunteers, the department has posted a sign at its 26 North St. station and ads on Facebook. Deputy Fire Chief Mark Bell also teaches a first responder class at Dryden High School, as well as Junior Firefighter Academy to get kids interested in volunteering.
The department, Neptune Hose Co. No. 1 of Dryden Inc., covers the eastern end of Dryden, 39.45 square miles with 6,360 people — 40 percent of the town. But the number of people is higher during the daytime when students and staff are at Tompkins Cortland Community College, said Tompkins Emergency Response Director Lee Shurtleff.
A shortage of volunteers is a problem for departments across the nation as well, Shurtleff said.
The number of certified first responders in Tompkins County dropped between 2003 and 2017. In 2003 there were 195 people certified, in 2017 it was only 131 — a 33 percent drop. The drop was more severe, 45 percent, with rescue squad membership, which has decreased from 123 to 68.
However, the volume of calls has gone up 70 percent in the last 12 years, Shurtleff said. Robert Leonard for the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York said it is hard to count every volunteer, but numbers vary over the years. After September 2001 there was a small spike in recruitment but it decreased again in 2010-2011 to 85,000 and went back up in part to a grant for recruitment and educational outreach, Leonard said.
There are several reasons for a shortage, Hall said. One is that people are moving away for job opportunities. In the last six months three qualified people left to move south for jobs.
Also, even though there are about 40 active members, many of them work and may not be available to assist with a call.
“We’re getting people on the road, but less of them,” Hall said.
Shurtleff noted both spouses work in most households and sometimes work two to three jobs or have other obligations.
Former firefighter Bill Ackroyd said there is also a lack of younger people interested in being firefighters, while others find they don’t have the time for the training — between 180 and 200 hours.
“I don’t think the general public appreciates or realizes the commitment the firefighters go through or the dollar amount they save,” Ackroyd said, compared with a paid department.
Leonard said fire departments must remain flexible. People of all ages and abilities can help in some way, and departments would do well to take advantage of college students or others, like teachers, who are on break in the summer.
The department does offer an incentive program based on participation, Hall said. Points are accumulated toward a cash bonus.