Volunteer Firefighters and First Responders Save Lives and Save Taxpayers’ Money

Blankenbush Encourages Northern New York Residents to Consider Becoming a Volunteer First Responder
Legislative column by Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush (R,C,-Black River)

We owe volunteer emergency service providers a great debt of gratitude for all of the hard work that they do. Almost 85 percent of all firefighters in New York participate on a volunteer basis. There also are over 57,000 certified emergency medical service (EMS) providers in the state, a majority of whom are volunteers. Here in rural Northern New York, most of our communities rely on volunteer first responders to fight fires, respond to car accidents and other emergencies, and support neighboring departments in all kinds of situations. Volunteers sacrifice time with their families, work hours and, in some cases, their lives to respond to emergencies and protect members of their communities. These volunteers undergo rigorous training and participate in continuing education programs to ensure competence in the fire and squad houses, on the emergency scene and in their support for their communities. Volunteer first responders protect strangers, friends and loved ones, and should feel real satisfaction from making an important difference in their communities. Not only do they offer protection for neighbors, friends and family, but they save the state a significant amount of money by providing their services on a volunteer basis. In a time when belts are tightening statewide and funds are scarce, we need volunteers more than ever. It has been estimated that volunteer time in payroll alone for the 130,000 firefighters and EMS personnel in New York state is estimated at $9-$10 billion. The Association of Towns has stated that “should the volunteer aspect of fire and ambulance services disappear, the burden to provide such services on a paid basis would raise property taxes beyond the ability of many town residents to pay.” It’s no secret that taxes in New York are out of control. Unrestrained spending by government leaders has led to an unsustainable level of taxation that is driving businesses and residents out of the state. If we lose volunteer emergency responders, the funds to pay for their services will have to come from somewhere. Unfortunately, that somewhere will be the wallets of the taxpayers. Despite the myriad of benefits volunteering provides, it has become increasingly difficult to recruit new volunteers. While they are eligible for numerous state- and organization- sponsored training and compensation, volunteerism is down statewide. As such, in order to drive interest the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) is conducting a recruitment drive. The statewide campaign will occur on Saturday, April 9 and Sunday, April 10. Local fire departments will discuss the requirements to be a volunteer, as well as conduct demonstrations, answer questions, and let visitors know how to get involved in the fire department. Interested individuals can contact their local fire department to determine if they are participating in the open house and, if so, when their doors will be open to the public. According to Joseph Plummer, Director of Jefferson County Emergency Management, Jefferson County communities participating in the effort include Adams Center, Brownville, Cape Vincent, Deferiet, Depauville, Lorraine, Mannsville, Northpole, Three Mile Bay and West Carthage. Depending on a department’s bylaws, volunteers as young as 16 can sign up. Even those who are not able-bodied enough to fight fires can sign up for other jobs that are just as important within the department. Here, in New York state, volunteer first responders are eligible for a $200 tax rebate, and some communities also offer credits toward property taxes and/or pensions. For more information about the recruitment effort or how to join a local fire department, contact your county’s emergency services department: Jefferson County Emergency Management
315-786-2654 St. Lawrence County Emergency Services
315-379-2240 Lewis County Emergency Services
(315) 376-5305 Oswego County Emergency Management
315- 591-9150 I encourage all interested parties to inquire about attending an open house or volunteering as a first responder. Our state needs help, and you, the potential volunteers, could provide a huge boost by becoming the proud protectors of our friends and families. And just a reminder: I welcome your questions and concerns on any state matter. Feel free to contact me at 315-493-3909, blankenbushk@assembly.state.ny.us, or stop by my district office open house on Monday, April 25, from 4-6 pm, 15 Bridge St., West Carthage.