By CHRIS EBERHART
The Harrison volunteer firefighters will host an open house on April 26 as part of a state-wide initiative to bolster shrinking volunteer units across New York.
Harrison fire Lt. Vinny Straface said, “[The Harrison volunteer firefighter force] used to be a 100-plus strong. Over the years, that number has dwindled down to about to about 50 active members.”
The declining number of volunteer firefighters is not exclusive to Harrison.
Throughout the state, the number of volunteer firefighters has been in steady decline over recent years, according to Carolyn Stone, spokesperson for FASNY—Firemen’s Association of the State of New York—which represents more than 92,200 volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel in the state.
Stone didn’t have specific numbers to illustrate the dwindling number of volunteers, but did weigh-in as to why it’s been difficult to recruit and retain volunteers.
“I think the challenge of keeping volunteer firefighters is life gets in the way,” Stone said. “People that are volunteer firefighters are also working full-time jobs and, when the economy isn’t good—which it hasn’t been in the past few years—people have to work second jobs and there are only a certain number of hours in a day. Then there are some that leave because they’re raising children—whether that means just being with them or bringing them to places.”
Harrison’s assistant fire chief Will Nardozzi said, “It takes a level of commitment to be a volunteer. That’s why it’s tough to recruit and retain. They’re required to go through training to be certified as a firefighter and they’re expected to maintain that level of training to remain certified. And they’re on call 24 hours.”
In Harrison, the volunteer firefighters supplement the 13 paid, career firefighters in the community, so it’s important to replenish the force, according to Straface. He alluded to the storms that have wrought havoc in the area over the past few years, including Hurricane Sandy.
“We have seen in the past three years some bad weather patterns which have caused major devastation,” Starface said. “It has been through these tough times that communities rely on volunteers to be there for them. Volunteers continue to be the silver lining in the time of need.”
On April 26, the Harrison volunteer firefighters will host an open house as part of a statewide initiative called RecruitNY, which is designed to increase volunteer membership in local fire departments.
As part of the open house, Straface said the fire department will conduct tours of its firehouse and fire apparatus, allow visitors to try on gear, provide visitor activities and stations throughout the firehouse and conduct demonstrations.
For potential recruits, members of the fire department will be on hand to answer questions and discuss the requirements that are needed to become a volunteer.
The initiative, which has been in place since 2011, is funded by a $4.2 million grant by the United States Department of Homeland Security Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response.
“Take this opportunity to come out and learn how you can help your community by volunteering your time with the Harrison Fire Department,” Chief Nick Cusumano said. “This open house is a great way for our local residents to see firsthand how our current volunteer firefighters operate. We hope that, by seeing how we operate and experiencing how we love what we do, we will inspire others to join in the ranks of the Harrison Fire Department.”
After the open house on April 26, the fire department will host a pasta night and proceeds will go to the Harrison Fire Department Scholarship fund.