Volunteer firefighters from across New York have gathered in the Syracuse area for their annual convention. YNN's Bill Carey says these are challenging times for those enrolled in the fire service.
ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- Volunteer firefighters from across the state gathered to honor their own. Firefighter of the Year Andrew Kolesar and Emergency Medical Service Provider of the Year Kyle Reitan. A time to celebrate accomplishments.
But this annual meeting of the Firemen's Association of the State of New York, FASNY, comes as volunteer departments face pressures from within and without. Within is the question of manpower.
The number of volunteers has plummeted. From well over 100,000 statewide to about 80,000 today.
“Runs the gamut from being the guy on the hose line to doing the books to keeping the station and equipment in proper working order. We need people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds,” said John D’Allesandro.
From the outside comes an all too common pressure: Money. Controlling the spending of taxpayer dollars and facing the mounting pressure of calls for consolidation of the many volunteer departments. The firefighters are pushing back.
“We can consolidate or learn to share the services that we have. The whole problem is we don't want to be told that we have to do it,” FASNY President David Jacobowitz said.
“Who better than the fire department knows their own area that they cover and, in most cases where I live, we're mostly volunteer. And I think there's the spirit of volunteerism and I think the state has enough things to do than worrying about what the fire departments are doing,” said Dennis Eickoff of the Colton Fire Department.
And the firefighters have found allies among voters. While many voters say that they like the idea of consolidation and saving taxpayer dollars, when it comes to local services provided by their communities, they're reluctant to go along. FASNY and its members say there is no one size fits all solution.
“I think we're going to find that, if consolidation makes sense the fire departments are going to do it on their own. Having the politicians come in and force it down our throats is not the way to do it,” said Michael Caron of the Elbridge Fire Department.
But with budgets tight, the volunteers know it's a battle that's not over yet.