Local officials warn of looming crisis with shortage of firefighters

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 October 2019 at 8:20 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: Carlton firefighters responded to a big brush fire on Route 98 in this photo from Aug. 29, 2015. The brush fire spread to a hedgerow before being contained.

GAINES – There are far fewer active firefighters locally who are responding to fires, motor vehicle accidents, EMS calls and other emergencies.

“We’re down 40 percent in 10 years,” Richard Moy, the Clarendon town supervisor, said about the number of local firefighters. “We have to do something.”

He spoke at Tuesday’s Orleans County Association of Municipalities, which includes elected officials from the county, towns and villages. Moy said the response times are taking longer, and fire departments are showing up with small crews.

It’s not just the small towns in rural communities that have a shortage of firefighters. Moy said the Brockport Fire Department last month called Clarendon for help on five mutual aid calls.

Moy was a Clarendon firefighter for 40 years. He said there used to be a waiting list to join the local fire departments. Now it’s hard to get active members, especially younger adults who are better able to handle the physical demands of the role.

Moy said it’s been a looming problem, without any action to date.

“What are we doing about it?” he asked. “Nothing.”

Al Cheverie, an Albion firefighter, said he increasingly sees a small group of firefighters, mostly middle aged at fire calls.

There are increasing training requirements that deter many from joining local departments, Cheverie said.

But he thinks a fire department can still be an attractive option for local people looking to serve their communities.

“It’s a scary thing,” Cheverie said about the small crews. “There’s no magic wand to it. But we need to make it fun again. Nobody wants to join a dinosaur.”

Moy urged the local officials to form a committee to work on the issue. The local elected officials say a paid full-time firefighting force would be too costly for the county. But maybe firefighters could be paid if they are on-call and respond.

Moy said not all departments are struggling. Learning from those that have a lot of members would be a good start in addressing the shortage locally, he said.

Moy said the departments with many active members have maintained a family atmosphere.

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