The Erie County Department of Emergency Services has announced that more than 700 new recruits swelled the ranks of volunteer fire companies across Erie County during 2013. This influx of new volunteers came from across the county's 94 fire departments and will augment the more than 5,000-member strong volunteer firefighting force that currently serves Erie County's municipalities.
"One of the best ways an individual can become involved in their community and help to make it stronger is through public service, and I thank the volunteers who answered the call to perform this vital role," said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. "They are now part of a strong volunteer firefighting tradition in Erie County, one that builds more resilient communities and makes our area a better place to live."
Erie County Emergency Services Commissioner Dan Neaverth Jr. added, "I'm thrilled to see the recruitment efforts hit such an impressive number, but now the hard work begins. Converting those applicants into front line firefighters is a complex process, requiring a long-term commitment by the volunteer, their department and elected officials. This recruitment must be complimented with retention and Erie County is positioned nicely to achieve both."
Erie County Deputy Fire Coordinator Tiger Schmittendorf said, "While this tremendous response is a direct result of the team effort between our Department of Emergency Services, the Firemen's Association of New York and our county's volunteer fire departments - it speaks volumes about the great people of our community that more than 700 of them would step up to serve, just in the past year alone."
Grand Island Fire Co. Chief Matt Osinski said the GIFC has six brand new, full-fledged rookies as of Feb. 1, who are now taking Firefighter 1 training. The company had five graduates in each of the last two years.
"It's a pretty arduous process for the rookies with 86 hours of training, and 130 hours for EMTs," Osinski said of training. He noted that all participants are volunteers with the same school, job and family commitments as anyone else.
Osinski said the GIFC has been very lucky to have strong support from the community in the 75-year life of the GIFC. He pointed out the GIFC has a cadet program, with high school-aged members taking on restricted duties, that in 2013 had six new cadets and in 2012 had five new cadets, some of whom have since gone on to become full-fledged firefighters.
The 700 new countywide recruits are in addition to the more than 600 new volunteers who joined the county's fire service in 2012. Volunteers provide fire protection and/or emergency medical services in every community in Erie County outside of the cities of Buffalo and Lackawanna.
While county officials are pleased that these numbers buck the national trend of a decline in volunteerism, there's still room for plenty more in several communities throughout the county as current volunteers leave active duty or seek to balance their fire service activities with growing family commitments.
Erie County Emergency Services serves as the clearinghouse for all volunteer firefighter recruitment inquires and efforts through its online presence at: iVolunteerFIRE.org. Their campaign slogan is: "We are Erie County Volunteer Firefighters: More than 5,000 strong. With you we can be stronger!"