It’s getting harder these days for volunteer fire departments to find new members. So five years ago the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) came up with a plan to boost volunteer membership: RecruitNY events held statewide during the same weekend in April at nearly 500 local firehouses where the communities can come in and check out the facilities and talk to firefighters.
The New Paltz Fire Department will hold a recruitment open house this Saturday, April 25 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at New Paltz Station #1, 25 Plattekill Avenue. This will be the department’s first time participating in a RecruitNY event. Visitors will have the opportunity to speak with firefighters about their possible interest in signing up and becoming involved. “We’re in need of membership,” said first assistant chief Dylan Babcock. “We’d like to let people see what it’s all about and if they’ve had even a borderline interest in joining up, this will allow them to really get a feel for it.”
The event will include refreshments and some hands-on activities for children, who can try out some of the equipment along with taking part in a fire prevention presentation.
“On top of the recruitment drive, it’s really a chance for the community to get an inside look at what exactly we have and what we do,” said Babcock. “And with the possibility of the department changing its status to a district, there’s a lot of things going on. We’d like to see as many people in the community attend as possible.”
The department currently has 34 or so active volunteer members, he said, about a third of whom are “exteriors,” meaning they’re not certified to fight fires inside buildings. “What that should say to the community, is ‘yes, we do need interior members,’ but at the same time there are other jobs for people who may not want to go in and actually fight the fires. It’s a common misconception that if you sign up to be in the fire department you are strictly fighting fires. We have classifications such as fire police, or you can drive the truck. Each has its own training that you have to go through, but these jobs are available if you feel like you want to help the community but you don’t want to go into a burning building.”
There’s also talk of forming a general auxiliary force to provide supplemental help. “We’re looking into that possibility,” Babcock said. “What we’re hoping to do is find people who might not have the physical ability to help with actually fighting a fire but can get the water to the firefighters to keep them hydrated, or wash the trucks; it’s the kind of thing where you’re still helping out; you may just not have the ability or desire to be involved in the actual emergency. That’s something we’ll bring up at the RecruitNY event; if there are people that would be interested in that we may implement it.”
Approximately five to ten new members join up in New Paltz every year, but only two or three of them stay, said Babcock. The ones that don’t stick with it leave for any number of reasons, from moving away to getting discouraged with the training. He notes that qualifying as an exterior automatically cuts the training in half, however, and positions like fire police or drivers have fewer training requirements to fulfill. The department currently does not have any women members, but Babcock says the ones they’ve had in the past have done “an amazing job.”
It’s a great program, he adds. “Hopefully people will come in and see what this is and become fully interested in joining.”