Eying the recruiting issue volunteer first responder agencies face in Upstate New York- state Sen. Pam Helming’s bill to bolster recruitment passed the Senate.
The bill unanimously passed the Senate, after being authored and sponsored by Helming. The goal is to help recruit more volunteer firefighters across the state. Under the legislation, local fire departments with youth training programs can allow student volunteers to safely observe an active emergency or hazardous response.
“In my discussions with our local fire departments, there has been a constant refrain: We need more volunteers. One idea we came up with to support recruitment was to give student volunteers the opportunity to experience firsthand how firefighters respond to emergencies. This will give our young people greater awareness and education about the opportunities available in the volunteer fire service, which is one of the best ways they can serve and support their communities. I am proud to sponsor this bill and to work with our local fire departments and first responders on initiatives like this to boost recruitment,” said Sen. Helming in a news release.
Current law prohibits student volunteers from observing an active emergency. The bill will allow observation of an active emergency under requirements established and regulated by the local fire chief.
“Over the past several years, volunteerism has been on a steady decline. This decline has put an additional stress on an already aging group of first responders. The key to turning this around is the youth in our community – they are the future of the fire service … By allowing students to witness live emergency scenes, Senator Helming’s bill will help further engage our youth, and further their dedication to public service. Actions like this will hopefully bring about the change that is greatly needed in the fire service,” added Adam Weinstein, Chief, Macedon Center Fire Department.
It’s an issue that has plagued communities across the Finger Lakes. Especially those in more rural locations.
“Over the past several years, we have seen a decrease in the number of volunteer firefighters and it has been one of our foremost public safety concerns. Giving student volunteers this firsthand experience is a great way to get them involved and I am very excited to see how this new legislation will help increase membership, strengthening our fire departments,” added Melissa Taylor, Director, Seneca County Office of Emergency Management.
“Volunteer firefighters are the fabric of our community. I welcome the opportunities this bill creates for young people and I am grateful for Senator Helming’s continued support of first responders,” said Jason Wagner, Chief, Shortsville Fire Department.
“Updating laws in an effort to improve volunteerism is an important step in the right direction. We thank [Sen. Helming] for her efforts on this,” said George Bastedo, Director, Wayne County Emergency Management.
Not having the financial stability for paid services- those in the first responder community say engaging with young people early in their life is crucial.
“Over the past 10 years, the number of new volunteer firefighters and EMS providers has dropped significantly across the nation. This is an especially more difficult situation in rural areas that could not afford a paid fire department. Engaging young people early, through active involvement and firsthand exposure to real-life emergencies, should help bolster our volunteer capacity, and also serve to open doors to a career path in public safety. Providing safe, guided, on-scene exposure to real world incidents will provide a rare opportunity for reinforcing what they learn in their formal training. The sooner we get young people actively involved, the better our chances of having the trained and capable emergency resources our communities so badly need,” said Dale A. Currier, Director, Cayuga County Office of Emergency Services.
The bill has now been sent to the Assembly.
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