Volunteer firefighters needed
The number of volunteer firefighters in New York has declined by 20 percent over the past two decades. To combat that plunge, the Beekman Fire Department is getting a boost from the federal government. Our John Wagner explains.
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DUTCHESS COUNTY, N.Y. -- The rural town of Beekman has grown rapidly over the last two decades, and so has the number of fires and emergency calls. It’s not a good scenario for a bedroom community.
"We don't have people in town, during the daytime to be able to respond to emergency needs," said John Adams, Beekman Fire District Commissioner.
“Today, times are different, everyone's working, people don't have the time that's needed to dedicate, to go through the training, to make the calls, to be active," said Ezio Battaglini, Beekman Fire District Chairman.
Based on national standards, Beekman draws the needed number of firefighters to a scene just 25 percent of the time. The sluggish economy has kept many focused on paid work. And while higher training standards keep firemen safer, they also hold some back from joining.
"When I first joined it was more of on the job training, you learn as you went along. Today, it's a whole different ballgame, we want people trained 100 percent before we send them out into the field,” said Battaglini.
When Ezio Battaglini began volunteering 27 years ago, he bought a life insurance policy to make sure his wife and four kids would be okay if he lost his life saving others. But thanks to a new quarter million dollar federal grant, Beekman will hire a volunteer recruiter and provide incentives like life insurance, mileage reimbursement, and tuition. Across the state, there are tax incentives and a pension-like program.
Volunteers make up 70 percent of firefighters nationwide. In New York, there are under 20,000 paid fireman, and 96,000 volunteers, saving New York around $5 billion a year.
"If we ever had to hire members to fight fires or to drive vehicles, it becomes very expensive to our taxpayers," said Adams.
"For the love of helping other people, for the love of helping other people, for the guys that are here, you do it obviously for reasons other than money, you do it because you love it," said Tom Hynes, Beekman Fire Department Captain.
While the pay may not be great, these firemen say the rewards are.
"When you find out you can handle it, it's one of the greatest things in the world, I wouldn't change anything, the only thing I'd change is join sooner," said Hynes.
"When you get out there and you help someone and make a difference in their life, that's priceless," said Battaglini.