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February 2014 Column - New members exceed 700 in Erie County volunteer fire departments


OFFICE HIGHLIGHTS

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oneilj - Posted on 05 February 2014

This time of year, fire departments across Erie County are holding their annual installation banquets to recognize award honorees and to swear in the new officers. These volunteers are critical to our community. Without them, many towns and villages would struggle to afford the quality level of service they receive.

 

Our volunteer firefighters are constantly going above and beyond. In addition to fire calls, they quickly respond to a variety of medical emergencies and are often the first on the scene of an accident.

 

Fire departments in Erie County are truly a second family for the volunteers. For decades brave men and women have manned the fire stations in their communities. Just recently, I presented a proclamation to the Springville Fire Company in recognition of 130 years of service; a milestone that is not to be taken lightly because it takes a lot of dedication to maintain a fire hall generation after generation. Also honored last month was my friend, Paul “Digger” Gernatt, a 50 year member of the Collins Center Fire Company. These are just a few examples of many showing the longevity of the fire departments and members in Erie County.

 

It is this strong sense of tradition, that I believe, helped the departments throughout Erie County see an increase of more than 700 volunteers in 2013. The county administration reports that Erie County's fire departments have a membership of more than 5,000. As membership declines elsewhere in the country, Erie County added 700 volunteers last year and 600 in 2012. That says a lot of about the people we have here in our county.

 

I want to thank each of the new volunteers who have signed up to protect their neighbor, no matter what. The veteran members and fire organizations also deserve credit for actively recruiting and retaining new members. Among the efforts is the launch of the program and website, www.iVolunteerFIRE.org that targeted potential new members. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more, visit the website or contact your local fire hall. There is always a need for volunteers.

 

The Legislature also passed a resolution in 2012 that allows new volunteers to be eligible for a grant to attend Erie Community College. FASNY (Firemen’s Association of the State of New York) operates a tuition reimbursement program called HELP – Higher Education Learning Plan for first time students and rookie volunteers. This is a winning program for the departments, community, college and students. Visit www.fasny.com for details and how to enroll.

 

If you have any questions or require additional information, please contact my office at 858-8850 or email john.mills@erie.gov