MAYVILLE - There is a shortage of first responders in New York state.
Chautauqua County is not immune to that, fire officials here have stressed.
In fact, many fire departments have turned to retired residents to fill their rosters. A lack of emergency medical technicians has even forced departments into mutual aid agreement pacts with surrounding fire companies.
Fire departments across Chautauqua County will open their doors Saturday, April 27, for the third annual “Recruit NY” campaign.
P-J photo by Eric Tichy
Why the decline in firefighters and EMTs?
"It's a combination of factors," said Stephen Cobb, Chautauqua County deputy fire coordinator in charge of emergency medical services. "There are a lot of aging communities without a lot of younger kids to come in."
Cobb teaches EMT classes at Fredonia State University, and noted many retired residents have become involved with local fire departments. Many show up at his class, which begins in the fall at the college and runs through December.
"A lot of these departments are grabbing these retired guys and throwing them into these EMT courses just to get a guy on the ambulance," Cobb said. "That's just how it is in these communities."
The town of Mina is in the process of contracting with the village of Sherman to provide EMS coverage. Mina Supervisor Rebecca Brumagin said the $15,000 contract would provide an additional safety net for the community.
The Findley Lake Fire Department covers Mina, but has struggled to find EMTs.
The pact between fire departments has become common in Chautauqua County.
"Mutual aid is so effective," said Julius Leone, county fire coordinator. "We have a strong system here in the county, and it's becoming more prevalent and used on a regular basis."
A need for volunteer firefighters, though, continues to plague many fire departments. Kurt Maytum, assistant chief for the Fredonia Fire Department, said a lack of free time and rigorous training required by New York state have kept some would-be volunteers at bay.
"It's not a big secret around here in the county and country that we need more people," Maytum said. "It's a common problem everywhere, and here we certainly can always use more volunteers."
There are more than 100 firefighters in Fredonia, 20-30 of whom volunteer on a regular basis, Maytum said. The department, which responded to 1,740 emergency calls in 2012, also utilizes paid full-time and part-time employees.
How much has membership declined?
"We used to have a waiting list to get into this fire department," Maytum said. "It's easy to say we don't have any kind of waiting list today."
In the south county, it's much of the same.
"We can always use more help," said Bemus Point fire chief Ryan Walker. "(We're) always in need of EMTs and firefighters."
Walker, who has been fire chief for three years and is a career firefighter in Fredonia, said his department has more than 30 volunteers who routinely respond to emergencies.
Asked how many additional volunteers he could use, he said, "It's hard to tell. You could give us a dozen or more and everyone has different schedules. That's how it goes."
More than a dozen fire departments in the county will open their doors Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as part of "Recruit NY," now in its third year. The statewide initiative is designed to attract new volunteers.
Four fire departments last year participated in the program, and fire officials were hoping for more participation this time around.
"We have a lot more interested this year," said Dan Imfeld, county deputy fire coordinator. "We're trying to make a difference in the county, and we're trying to make people aware. This is certainly one way to do it."
The following fire departments will have an open house on Saturday: Bemus Point, Cassadaga, Cherry Creek, Dewittville, East Dunkirk, Falconer, Forestville, Fredonia, Gerry, Lakewood, Mayville, Sheridan, Silver Creek, Stanley Hose Co. in Sherman, Stockton, Sunset Bay and Westfield.
"We're hoping to let the community know what we're doing and what kind of training we do," Walker said.