OLD BETHPAGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Firefighters on Long Island are asking for help. Departments say there’s a shortage of volunteers.
CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan found out more about about the recruitment campaign on Tuesday.
Of the cherished time-honored tradition of Long Island’s 180 fire departments, 178 are all volunteer.
Donald Marra is Sayville volunteer who learned his craft at the Nassau County Fire Service Academy in Old Bethpage, where there is an urgent call for more members.
“It’s not like the old days when people had plenty of time on their hands. Nowadays, the demographics are people are working two jobs,” Marra said.
With a recruitment push, New York state is hoping to reverse the declining number of volunteer firefighters. The number fell from its 120,000 peak to the low of 80,000. Many are aging, and the state wants new young blood and many more women and minorities.
“Great Neck Fire Department, they had a influx of Persian Iranian Jews and had to install a kosher kitchen to facilitate those members. We are encouraging women to join the fire service and we encourage youth,” said Robert Leonard of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York.
There are now about 105,000 volunteers, but that’s not enough to keep up with the growing number of calls.
“The volume of calls, especially EMS, goes higher every year,” said Robert Leonard of the Syosset Fire Department. “With the age of population growing and the acuity of the kind of medical calls we are seeing and of course automatic fire alarms, one of our biggest response categories out there.”
There are benefits to volunteering such as help with college tuition, property taxes and pension, but it is the sense of community, belonging and desire to help others that is the real achievement.
“Nobody is going to throw you into a building before you are prepared,” Assistant Nassau Fire Marshal John Priest said. “We are going to teach you, bring you along, give you on-the-job training, and you are immediately going to reap the rewards of just going home and being able to know that you helped. And a lot of people never get to experience that.”
The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York’s annual RecruitNY weekend begins Saturday. It is urging you to stop by your local firehouse to say hi and see what’s going on. Volunteering could be in your DNA.
Long Beach in Nassau, and Setauket in Suffolk are the only Long Island communities with paid firefighters.