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Orleans faces ‘serious shortage’ of firefighters, EMO leader says

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 February 2015 at 12:00 am

File photos by Tom Rivers – Volunteer firefighters move hoses to get ready to battle a fire in Carlton on Route 98 on Jan. 23.

GAINES – Orleans County needs more firefighters, especially for the calls during the morning and early afternoon, when many of the firefighters are working their full-time jobs, said Dale Banker, the county’s emergency management director.

“There is a serious shortage of firefighters in the county,” Banker told town and county officials this evening during the Orleans County Supervisors and Legislators Association. “It’s not critical at this point.”

But he worries there won’t be enough firefighters for speedy responses for some calls. There are 12 fire departments in the county and Banker said they all could use more volunteers, and not just for fighting fires and assisting at car accidents.

The departments need people to direct traffic, serve as bookkeepers and help in other roles.

“There’s a job for everyone to do,” Banker said. “We really do need help countywide.”

Dale Banker (left), the Orleans County emergency management director, is at a fire scene in Carlton on Nov. 7. He is talking with Marty Zwifka, a deputy fire coordinator.

Banker said the training requirements have become more onerous for the volunteers. It’s now a 104-hour training commitment to become a basic firefighter. And the training books are $70 each.

Banker has served in the local fire service for 40 years, beginning as an explorer at age 15 with the Albion Fire Department. He started as EMO director in July, replacing Paul Wagner who retired after 14 years.

Banker said the firefighters and other emergency responders received a big boost last year with a new radio system.

He also is pleased with the success of a youth group for Holley students, where they learn firefighting skills under guidance of the Clarendon, Holley and Fancher-Hulberton-Murray fire companies. The program has about a dozen teens on track to become firefighters.

Banker said Albion, Carlton and Barre would like to start a similar program, mentoring Albion students. Banker said those type of programs can help develop a new generation of firefighters.

He asked the town and county leaders to spread the word about the need, and how the local fire departments can find spots for willing community members.

County Legislator Lynne Johnson praised Banker for his work since becoming EMO director.

“He’s come into the job and he’s dove into it,” she said.