Fire stations across Cortland County and the state will open their doors this weekend to anyone looking to become a volunteer firefighter.
The 9th annual RecruitNY Saturday and Sunday is a campaign by the Fireman’s Association of the State of New York to increase volunteer firefighter membership.
In Cortland County, there are 11 fully volunteer fire department. The city of Cortland has both volunteers and paid firefighters. Groton has a volunteer fire department, while the town of Dryden has five volunteer departments.
“Every department can use as many members as they can because it is a 24/7 operation and this day and age, everyone works different hours,” Cortlandville Deputy Fire Chief Brian Pendell said, adding the department’s volunteer membership has been good due to recruitment efforts by Fire Commissioner Paul Alteri. The department has 60 members.
“We went from 35 to 60 members when I started the program five years ago,” Alteri said. “Really, it doesn’t matter how many members you have, it matters how many are active.”
Alteri said besides doing RecruitNY weekend he sends out recruitment fliers twice a year and places advertisements in the Cortland Standard.
“Actually we are running an ad right now,” Alteri said.
That gives information on what position are available and benefits they offer.
“We encourage youth to join because youth are the future of the fire service. We take members as young as 16. It’s a great way to keep off the streets, give back to your community and see if its a possible career path.”
People looking what departments are participating RecruitNY can visit www.recruitny.org/participation-area/ or contact their local department’s non-emergency number.
Cuyler Fire Chief Tim Custer said his department won’t be able to participate in this year’s RecruitNY weekend because members are tied up with other obligations. However, he noted the weekend is very important.
“It’s very obvious that manpower is very short — that help is limited nowadays,” he said. “Hopefully this will spark some more interest. We’re trying to get as much help as we possibly can, so anything helps.”
More than 500 departments across the state have signed up for the weekend-long event, according to a news release from FASNY. People who visit the stations will learn about what the firefighters do on a daily basis and get a chance to speak with active volunteers.
“It is a privilege and an honor to serve as a volunteer firefighter,” FASNY President Steven Klein said. “The fire service is a family. Across New York State, volunteers are eager to discuss the possibility of joining this family. RecruitNY is a wonderful opportunity for New Yorkers to meet their neighbors who help keep them safe and to learn if joining might be right for them.”
Having volunteer firefighters saves residents money, according to the release. The median base wage for a paid firefighter in New York — outside New York City — is $63,021 a year, states a report released by FASNY in 2016. Every volunteer reduces local property tax costs at least that much and witching to all-paid departments would increase property taxes more than 26.5%.