Volunteers wanted

An event like Monday’s fire at Hills Trucking Company on Route 60 can remind the area just how important our firefighters are. Fire departments from Dunkirk, East and West Town of Dunkirk, Fredonia, Sheridan, Sunset Bay, Hanover, Cassadaga, Stockton as well as the Chautauqua County Emergency Services responded to the site. While some communities such as the cities of Dunkirk and Jamestown and the village of Fredonia have some paid firefighters, many other fire departments are solely staffed by unpaid volunteers.

Although people are welcome to volunteer anytime, this weekend many fire de-partments statewide are holding open houses to encourage people to step up and volunteer. Many will be held Saturday from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. Fredonia’s will be 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Other departments like Forest-ville and Falconer are listed for Sunday. Some, like Westfield Fire Department, will be open both Saturday and Sunday.

Julius Leone, Chautauqua County Fire Coordinator, was pleased with the growth of the event and noted this year the county has worked to increase participation.

Dan Imfeld, Chautauqua County Deputy Fire Coordinator, who is coordinating the “Recruit NY” in this county, said that as of Tuesday, 27 fire departments were participating in the effort by holding open houses with activities and volunteers to whom interested people can speak. The program is in its third year. Last year four departments participated.

Imfeld said, “We are using the SAFER grant from FEMA and trying to do this in a more organized way this year. The county promoted this among the fire departments.”

He said, “The departments are all in the same boat. Because of the economy, young folks go away and don’t come back. … Families were involved in the fire department. Grandparents, parents and then their children used to volunteer. We are trying to reach out to others.”

Imfeld said that the types of calls have changed. Currently 75 percent of the calls are EMS (Emergency Medical Services) related, so there is a greater need for EMT (Emergency Medical Technicians). Fire departments will train the volunteers. He noted that many retirees are stepping up to fill in the gap, and that there are many opportunities to help. For volunteers, there is a possibility for tuition assistance in some cases.

Jeffrey Griewisch, fire chief and training officer for the Silver Creek Fire Department agreed.

He said, “There are never enough EMTs during the day. … The Emergency Squad funds the training and Chautauqua County offers two classes a year right out of Fredonia. There’s a job for everybody. We need those who can fight interior fires, but those who aren’t able to do that can do other things. There is an auxiliary. There are 101 jobs, if a person has the slightest inclination (to serve) try it.”

Griewisch said that everyone is invited to the open house whether or not the person wants to volunteer. He said it is important for people to understand what the department does.

Dan King, president of the Brocton Fire Department, said the department is looking at a number of ideas for increasing participation. He wants to reinstate the Auxiliary that once functioned in the department. He also noted the department gives a presentation at the Brocton school.

“Those 18 and older can serve and the training can be valuable.” King said.

He used Chautauqua County Fire Coordinator Julius Leone’s two sons who volunteered as an example. “They are now working in paid departments in Washington, D.C. and Virginia,” he noted.

Cassadaga chief David Muscato said that his department has six or seven EMTs, but the department used to have 26.

“I’m going back 20 years,” he said. “It’s hard for younger households now. It takes a lot out of a family, when both the husband and wife are working and they have young children.”

Muscato said, “We are trying our best to get more people interested in the fire service. There is a whole list of things people can do. We will support whatever they can do.”

Everett Reardon, Lieutenant in the Hook and Ladder Co. in Westfield, said this is the first year Westfield has been part of the statewide recruitment efforts. He wants potential volunteers to see the equipment and have an opportunity to talk to volunteers. He said, “There is a spot for everyone.”

Kurt Maytum, assistant chief for the Fredonia Fire Department said, “It’s not a big secret around here in the county and the country we need more people. It’s a common problem everywhere and here we can certainly use more volunteers.”

Information about local departments and the times they listed for recruitment can be found at www.recruitny.org which is sponsored by the Firemen’s Association of New York.

Imfield also encouraged those with questions to call the Chautauqua County Office at 753-4341.

Comments on this article may be directed to dchodan@observertoday.com. Eric Tichey contributed to this report.