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Home » Valentine's Day » Training vs. Fuel: First responders forced to make tough choices due to high cost of diesel (video)

Training vs. Fuel: First responders forced to make tough choices due to high cost of diesel (video)

  • / Updated:
  • Rebecca Swift 

Editor’s Note: New York State Senator Pam Helming was mistakenly referred to as “United States Senator” in the video portion of this story.

Firefighter Carrie Smalser fills her truck with diesel fuel at the Village of Ovid Municipal Building.

“It’s just something we have to do maybe once a week, maybe every couple of weeks,” Smalser said.  “We try not to let it get below maybe a quarter or a third tank down.”

Smalser volunteers with the Ovid Fire Department. She says money is tight right now for many emergency responders throughout the Finger Lakes, because of the astronomical cost of gas.

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“Unfortunately, there are some departments who have to make decisions between training equipment, outfitting firefighters and putting fuel in their vehicles,” Smalser said. “They may have firefighters that want to join but they may not be able to provide them with the proper equipment.”

Smalser’s friend and colleague, Ryan Smith, volunteers for the Lodi Fire Department.  Smith says they’re struggling to make their current budget work.

“If you go on scene sometimes you’re there for several hours with several trucks running, it can get expensive pretty quick on you,” Smith said.  He added, some departments won’t be able to attend upcoming community events.  “I’ve heard a couple of fire departments are pulling back on the parades this year because they don’t have the budget, or they can’t pay for the fuel to go there.”

Other emergency responders are feeling it too.  South Seneca Ambulance Chief of Operations Zack Gibeau says EMS is not considered an essential service in New York State, so they don’t receive tax funds like firehouses or police departments.

“With the increase, it’s just killing our operational budget,” Gibeau said.  “We do our operational budget the year prior, so with the 50% increase in fuel prices it’s just killing us.”

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Sen. Helming chimes in on first responder gas issue

We reached out to United States Senator Pam Helming, who represents the 54th Senate District in New York State.  Helming tells us she’s doing what she can to support EMS workers throughout the Finger Lakes during this challenging time. 

“It is critical that we support our local firefighters and EMT’s in order to ensure all residents have access to timely, quality care, particularly in our rural communities,” Helming said in a statement.  “That is why I have supported legislation to help bolster fire department recruitment efforts through training and youth programs. I have also sponsored bills that allow volunteer fire departments to recover costs for EMS as well as prohibit the diversion of funds dedicated to operating and maintaining 911 services.”

Meanwhile, firefighters say they’re committed to showing up if you have an emergency, regardless the cost of fuel.

“It is what it is,” Smith said.  “We’re not gonna not show up.  I don’t think any one of us has ever said we’re not going to go because fuel is expensive.   We’re in it for the long haul and we’re there to help people.”

Volunteers say they appreciate community support.

“Any donations are helpful but other than that there’s nothing the community can do other than talk to legislation and try to get EMS recognized as an essential service,” Gibeau said.

“Donate a case of water, bring some popsicles by,” Smalser said. “Anything small can be helpful.”

How will volunteer fire, ambulance companies deal with rising fuel costs?