Local volunteer fire departments will open their doors to the public this weekend as part of the fourth annual RecruitNY campaign.
The statewide initiative - which will be held Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. - gives visitors the opportunity to tour fire stations, try on turnout gear and participate in a variety of activities and demonstrations - all in an effort to galvanize interest and increase volunteer membership.
"From my own personal perspective, (being a volunteer firefighter) has been a great experience," said Dan Imfeld, Staff for Adequate Fire Emergency Response grant coordinator for Chautauqua County and a 30-year Lakewood firefighter. "It's a chance to give back to your community and it doesn't take as much time as a lot of people think."
Imfeld described how the number of volunteer firefighters in the county has steadily declined over the years, with a high of 2,200 about 10 years ago to 1,800 today.
"A lot of it has to do with the economy," Imfeld said. "Years and years ago, you had a single person in a family working, so getting time to do volunteer firefighter work, which is time consuming, wasn't as difficult. Now, as we've gotten to more families that are two-income, and single-parent families, the time to give to a volunteer fire department is becoming less and less. We're not getting the new recruits like we used to on a year-in, year-out basis."
Imfeld added that joining the fire department doesn't necessarily mean running into burning buildings. Rather, people can choose to work "behind the scenes" as ambulance drivers or even in an administrative position.
"It's a chance to give back to your community and it doesn't take as much time as a lot of people think."
SAFER grant coordinator for Chautauqua County
"We were able to recruit 67 volunteers across the county last year (because of RecruitNY)," Imfeld said. "So we think it was very successful and we're hoping to have that kind of success this year."
Twenty-seven out of 39 volunteer fire departments in the county will participate in the RecruitNY campaign this weekend.
Those open only on Saturday are: Bemus Point, Brocton, Cassadaga, Cherry Creek, Dewittville, East Dunkirk, Ellington, Forestville, Fredonia, Kennedy, Mayville, Portland, Silver Creek, Sinclairville, Sheridan, Stockton, Sunset Bay, West Dunkirk and Westfield fire departments.
Those open only on Sunday are: Falconer, Findley Lake and Gerry fire departments.
The Lakewood Fire Department will be open on both Saturday and Sunday. The Busti Fire Department will be open on Saturday.
For more information, visit recruitny.org or call the Chautauqua County Emergency Services office at 753-4341 for more information.