Volunteer Firefighters in crisis
Ranks falling short
Last Edited: Monday, 17 Nov 2008, 7:56 PM EST
Created On: Monday, 17 Nov 2008, 7:56 PM EST

Trica Cruz
CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) - They run into burning buildings - risking their own lives to save yours. and they do it for free.

But now - volunteer firefighters are facing their own emergency.

Making ends meet in these financially troubled times. Donald Szumigala is one of them. "Finding the time to do the volunteering on top of work and family and school."

Szumigala says it's not easy. He's the second assistant chief at the Doyle Fire Department in Cheektowaga. He's been here for 10 years. He's been working two jobs his whole life and still makes the time to serve his community. But he doesn't know what the future holds for the rest of his crew because of the state of the economy. "People will have less time to volunteer because they'll be forced to work a second or third or fourth job to make ends meet."

"I don't know of any department that wouldn't want to have more volunteers." Earl Schmittendorf is the deputy fire coordinator for Erie County Emergency Services. He says - as long as fire departments hold on to their firefighters - calls will not go unanswered.
I doubt very much they're gonna let something like the economy stand in the way of doing what they love to do and that is serving the community."

But everytime you see a volunteer firefighter rushing to an emergency - they're paying for every mile of gas on their own. "All the training is provided for free. All of their protective equipment is provided to them for free." Paying for gas is another financial burden some just can't afford though. One of many reasons new recruitment efforts are underway to bring in new blood. One includes a scholarship program. "Which will hopefully allow some of the younger people who right now have to choose between work or something like this in order to pay for school."

B ut even if they get new recruits - the crumbling stock market could keep them from joining in the line of fire. "Funding has been cut from the state level, traing hours are down." Training classes can only hold a certain number of firefighters. Fewer training hours means fewer classes and fewer recruits. But the only thing Szumigala wants you to remember as he and his colleagues fire that next emergency is this. "We are your neighbor down the street. We're your neighbor next door. We're here to serve our community."

Copyright WIVB.com

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Comment by steve price on November 18, 2008 at 6:00pm
regardless if a department is 100% volunteer or a combination dept. like mine there still is a lack of funding for training unless you're lucky enough to have a state instructor inhouse
Comment by Gene Rhinehart on November 18, 2008 at 10:02am
I think most if not all Volunteer Depts. should have at least 2 full time paid, and they rotate if the voluteers have no other jobs.
Comment by Mary Ellen Shea on November 17, 2008 at 11:26pm
I think we've reached a crisis point in funding. If the volunteer fire service is going to survive, we're going to have to focus on a few key elements; Recruitment, Training, Creativity and Self-Reliance.

The NYS Office of Fire Prevention and Control has had their annual training budget cut to ribbons by Gov. Patterson, to the tune of millions of dollars. OFPC has as much admitted point blank that they won't be able to provide the numbers of incoming firefighters across the state with the requisite training.

Where does that leave the Volunteer Fire Service?

We've spent our salad days relying on the State and Federal Government to provide the funds, resources and training we need to continue to do our job and bring new members into the fold. The brutal truth is that the salad days are over.

So how do we carry on? By researching alternative funding methods, applying for grants, foregoing pride and asking the community that we serve for additional assistance, and by seeking out non-traditional methods for obtaining the training that we so desperately need.

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