New York has roughly 1,800 volunteer fire departments across the state, but over the past few decades, there has been a steady decline in not only the number of people willing to jump in and volunteer, but also in the number of volunteers these departments are able to retain.
This week, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that will create a New York State Recruitment and Retention Task Force.
John D’Alessandro, a public affairs specialist at the Fireman’s Association of the State of New York, explains that this task force will first be identifying why so many volunteer firefighters end up leaving these departments.
"It’s a complex problem, because some of it is training and how training is delivered,” D’Alessandro said. “Other parts of it might be financial for certain fire departments. There’s no one silver bullet, there is no one easy fix here.”
D’Alessandro says that departments will have to look at ways to make this training more accessible for the average person looking to join a volunteer fire department, but at the same time they cannot compromise on quality since this is a dangerous job.
“One thing we don’t want to do is lessen the training, because at the end of the day you need a capable and competent individual responding to your house when you have an emergency,” D’Alessandro said. “But at the same time we have to examine the ways those people get that training. Make it a little more efficient, a little easier to fit into their busy lives in today’s society.”
The task force will be compromised of fire service members, the executive branch, the legislature, and state agencies. Once the task force meets, they will have 120 days to issue their report.
Volunteer fire departments, instead of an all-career force, save taxpayers over $5 billion annually, according to FASNY.