TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) - Volunteer firefighters often are the people who come running when you call for help in case of a fire. They show up with sirens roaring and lights flashing and are the faces who respond to fires throughout Erie County, saving lives while dousing flames.
But their ranks in some area are dangerously thin; about 600 more volunteers are needed across the region, says Dan Neaverth, Jr., County Commissioner of Emergency Services.
"Traditionally, the problem that we face in Erie County is that for every firefighter that comes in, you might lose one or two. It's slowly been slipping. As a result of that, the scale has started to diminish," he lamented.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz explained, "As our population gets smaller and as our population gets older, just like every other part of this community, we're seeing less volunteers in the effort and we need more."
Poloncarz says the population is dropping, but the calls for help keep coming in. "What hasn't dropped is the need in our community," he added.
While firefighters say there is a job for anyone who wants to volunteer, the fact is some smaller stations throughout the county are reaching seriously low levels during what's called the "critical hours" - 9-5 or 8-4, during the day.
David Jacobowitz is the president of the Firemen's Association of the State of New York and says these volunteer stations are having to reach out to other agencies for help, when resources are low.
"What we're doing is responding mutual aide more. We're making do with what we have," he noted.
To recruit more volunteers, Erie County and many others statewide are participating in the "Volunteer NY Campaign," raising awareness of volunteerism with billboards and open houses. Over two dozen volunteer fire departments are having open houses this weekend, April 21st and 22nd.
The county is also offering tuition assistance programs for anyone who volunteers. You can find out more information about that by contacting one of the fire departments or attending one of the free open houses.
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