October 21, 2021

A few good firefighters

Annual FASNY recruitment event set for this weekend

Jamie L. Costa/staff reporter

Captain Jim Zelsnack, left, Seth Henry, center, and Joe Riley train for their hazmat recertification Tuesday with the Cortland Fire Department.

The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York will host the 11th Annual RecruitNY weekend on Saturday and Sunday.

The McGraw and Cortland fire departments will participate.

Departments across the country have seen a decrease in volunteer firefighters but an increase in call volume, and types of calls, said association secretary and volunteer programs coordinator John D’Alessandro.

“Hundreds of volunteer fire departments across New York will be participating in RecruitNY,” said FASNY President John Farrell. “After the year we have been through, RecruitNY weekend can provide people with the opportunity to interact with the responders who are dedicated to protecting them.”

Between 2000 and 2001, the state had around 120,000 volunteer firefighters, D’Alessandro said. Now, there’s somewhere around 85,000.

The decrease in volunteers can be attributed to three factors; lack of time, lack of knowledge and fear of the career, D’Alessandro said.

“We initiated a statewide outreach campaign with the tagline, ‘Is there a fire in you?’” D’Alessandro said. “Part of the campaign was this RecruitNY weekend and in the ongoing campaign, we had to address those three things.”

The purpose of the event is to draw interest in volunteer firefighting throughout the state and host demonstrations of what the industry does from working fires and gas leaks to putting on gear and touring the fire department, D’Alessandro said.

Still, the RecruitNY weekend has not been successful in past years for Cortland County fire departments.

“To be quite honest, the last few years we did that, we didn’t get any results from it,” said Homer Fire Chief Mahlon Irish Jr. “We didn’t have anybody even stop and ask for an application.”

The Homer Fire Department has not paricipated in RecruitNY the last four years, Irish said. Irish has found word of mouth brings the most success to the department and the department has been fortunate to see the numbers of volunteers holding.

“We’ve seen some (apply because of RecruitNY), people will apply, we’ll see two to three applications,” said Cortland Fire Chief Wayne Friedman. “But less than 50% of them stay with the department – it’s not the big influx that other departments may see.”

The Cortland Fire Department will not be hosting in-person or virtual events but its website has information on applying to volunteer, Friedman said.

However, challenges for rural towns are compounded by demographics, D’Alessandro said. The more rural the town, the less of a population there is to choose from.

“We are hopeful about this weekend,” D’Alessandro said. “If COVID has done anything, it’s taught everyone that we can do meetings and conduct business virtually.”

In future years, FASNY will do a combination of virtual and in-person events for RecruitNY weekend to make accessibility easier, D’Alessandro said.