SPRINGVILLE — The city of Buffalo and many of the surrounding suburban areas have the need and funding for a professional fire department on call, in their area. Things are different in the small towns and rural areas of southern Erie County, where the fire and emergency services are provided by volunteers who want to help their communities. In recent years, volunteerism in emergency services has been down nationally. To help buck this trend and pique interest in joining local fire departments, the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York started the RecruitNY campaign. The campaign has been greatly successful, especially in Erie County, where there is now an overflow of recruits, according to Springville Fire Chief Dennis Dains.
“We have had an overabundance of new applicants to volunteer, which is good,” said Dains. Since January of 2012, 1,300 new recruits have joined the Erie County Volunteer Fire Services and six have joined the Springville Fire Department.
The problem with the large quantity is getting the recruits the proper training, the chief noted.
“Firefighter 1 is the mandatory training for all recruits. Because of the high demand for the classes, Erie County is maxed [out] and the state is maxed out with instructors for the training course. What’s happening is, there is not enough time to get all the recruits through,” Dains explained.
To fight this problem, Erie County has started running “boot camps,” so volunteer recruits can receive Firefighter 1 training faster.
The classes are capped at 24 recruits. After two years of running the boot camps, the county has run into a new problem.
“They find that some individuals may be claustrophobic, when they put on self-contained breathing apparatus or SCBA [used when entering a structure which has poor breathing air, and in interior firefighting], or they are not strong enough with the breathing, so then the recruit is lost from the course,” Dains explained. “Now, you’re down maybe 18 or 16 in a class, so you’re not fulfilling 24 recruits that you wanted, so it cuts your numbers down.”
Erie County has come up with a pilot plan, that will be implemented in the coming months, to help fight these issues in a more timely and fiscally responsible manner. The plan begins with a 14-hour orientation to the Firefighter 1 training.
“Instead of later on in the training, the instructors will find out right away, whether or not someone is capable of completing each portion of the training. If both the recruit and the instructor realize that an individual is not capable of fulfilling the interior firefighting portion of the training, the recruit can be sent back to a different outline of training more suited to scene-support operations and exterior firefighting,” said Dains.
The intent of these orientation sessions is to maximize the number of students in the boot camp training course, by eliminating those who could not complete the course. The county will be able to mix and match classes, to allow for a full 24-student session. The orientation class will also offer introductions to firefighter safety and personal protective equipment.
“I think the pilot plan will work well,” said Dains. “I’ve talked with other fire chiefs in the county and we think it’s going to help a lot.”
Although the pilot plan will help train recruits more effectively, the orientation session and the still-growing number of recruits requires more instructors for the course. Erie County now faces the issue of funding the program. According to Dains, the county may be looking to the individual departments to help supplement the cost of the new program.
“I don’t have a problem with that, in the [Springville Fire Department] budget, like a lot of the other departments around the county. I have money set aside for training, whether it be for firefighting or Emergency Medical Services. If it’s a factor to get some of these individuals through the training in an efficient manner, I don’t mind kicking in to pay for it,” said Dains.
Individuals who are interested in volunteering can attend a RecruitNY open house, which Springville will be teaming up with East Concord Fire Department to present on April 26 at the Springville Fire Hall, located on Main Street in Springville.