Most of the 45 volunteer fire stations in Jefferson County towns and villages have been fixtures for decades. But while the stations may be permanent, recruiting enough volunteer firefighters to keep them open is an increasingly difficult challenge, firefighters say.
To that end, a recruitment training class for volunteer firefighters will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at the Pamelia Fire Department, 25082 Route 16, by the Firemens Association of the State of New York. Firefighters are encouraged to attend the training to glean tips on how to recruit and retain volunteers, said Joseph D. Plummer, Jefferson County director of fire and emergency management. He described the seminar as a train the trainer class in which firefighters can share valuable recruitment tips.
Mr. Plummer said recruiting volunteers who can make the time commitment is difficult for every department.
We always need more people to volunteer at our departments, he said, and I see this on a firsthand basis because I respond to most (fire) scenes.
Time is typically the greatest barrier preventing people from serving. The introductory training course to become a certified firefighter is 90 hours. Classes typically are held at fire departments from 7 to 10 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays.
A lot of people are working two jobs, or mom and dad are both working, so it becomes a hard thing to commit to, Mr. Plummer said.
But those willing to make the commitment, he said, usually find that completing the training with a team of other volunteers is an accomplishment worthy of perseverance. Hands-on training includes responding to mock fires in controlled situations and live fires in burning buildings.
By accomplishing training as a team, you form a set of bonds with other volunteers in your fire group, said Mr. Plummer, a firefighter for three decades. Its almost like gym classes in school, because people start chanting for you in competitions and it helps everyones self-esteem. We dont do this for the money.
For new residents seeking to get linked to the community, Mr. Plummer said, joining a fire department is an avenue to forge friendships that can last a lifetime. Its also a way to serve the community by performing gritty work that wouldnt get done otherwise. Along with responding to fires, volunteers are often called in the middle of the night for vehicle accidents, fallen trees and flooded basements.
Most volunteer firefighters who are asked why they do it will provide the same response.
Theyll say we just do it and get it done neighbor helping neighbor, man helping man, he said. If theres no one else in the community to do it, the fire department has to.
Evans Mills Fire Chief Kevin L. Hall, 59, became a volunteer 40 years ago. He followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by joining. Today, you dont have the local families getting involved like you did back then, he said. If your father or brother was in there, youd be eager to join.
Evans Mills has 40 volunteers, he said, but now has a dearth of people who can serve during daytime hours. About half of its crew members are younger than 30.
Buffy L. Hance, whos been a volunteer firefighter in Evans Mills for six years, pitched in with two other members Saturday night to host an alumni dinner at the fire department for Evans Mills Primary School. She said the department, which has a quick turnover of volunteers who serve at Fort Drum, is always in need of new recruits.
People are always coming in and out of here, she said.
While shes fought several fires as a volunteer, Mrs. Hance said, serving at fundraisers plays an equally important role.
Helping people is the most rewarding, she said. If someones trapped in a car, we have to cut them out. And thats all that matters to me.