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Brockport Fire District serves community despite volunteer shortage

by Kari Ashworth - News Editor
Tue, Oct 29th 2019 08:25 pm
The Brockport Fire District, like other fire departments nationwide, is suffering from a shortage of volunteers due to a numerous amount of reasons.
The Brockport Fire District, like other fire departments nationwide, is suffering from a shortage of volunteers due to a numerous amount of reasons.

Fire departments nationwide have noticed a declining number of volunteers over the years. The Brockport Fire District is no different. 

The Brockport Fire District encompasses the Village of Brockport, the Town of Clarkson and the Town of Sweden, as well as The College at Brockport, and relies entirely on volunteers. 

“There’s been a 45% decline in volunteers over the years,” Secretary and Commissioner Debra Bax said.

This decline has been brought on by a number of things, including volunteers “aging out.” These are older firefighters who either “feel too old or are just plain too old” and are not capable of volunteering anymore. However, volunteering is a large time commitment not everyone can afford. 

“[It has to do with] time restraints that people have due to family and their full time jobs and compound that with the number of hours of training that are involved to become a firefighter and to remain a firefighter,” Chairman and Commissioner Charles Sanford said.

For those who can make the commitment, there is no monetary cost to it. According to Public Information Officer Christopher Martin, the district “feels very strongly” the volunteer is donating their time to the department, therefore the district provides a full set of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the officers. 

While the district is volunteer only, many of the surrounding communities do have paid firefighters. Given Monroe County has a Mutual Aid Agreement, some volunteers must work alongside paid members at times. Monroe County was the first in the United States to initiate one of these agreements in the 1950s, and it does help with the shortage of volunteers. 

“If we get a report of a car fire, I would get on the truck and we’d go to the car fire and we’d put it out,” Martin explained. “But if the report was for a house fire and it was between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., they would do the mutual aid agreement where, if it was in the north district in Clarkson, Hamlin would come. They would be on the run card, which is a card that tells the dispatcher who to dispatch. If it was a house fire, they would immediately have apparatus from Hamlin dispatched at the same time under that Mutual Aid Agreement to make sure that we would have enough manpower and enough equipment to handle the fire.”

Based on where a call is made, the chief has a plan set in place with neighboring departments — including Hamlin, Spencerport, Hilton, Churchville, Bergen, Clarendon, Holley and Kendall — under the Mutual Aid Agreement to ensure the fire can be subdued. 

The district attempts to recruit volunteers through a number of ways. For starters, it has an annual fund drive.

“There’s always a piece in the fund drive asking people, you know, ‘have you thought about joining your local fire department?’” Martin said. “It’s a rewarding volunteer association within your community; it’s a way to get involved.”

Moreover, the district sends representatives to other events in the community that are appropriate for recruitment. An event also typically takes place during Fire Prevention Week to promote fire safety as well as use it as an opportunity to recruit new members. 

The district also finds a lot of their volunteers from the Explorer Program, which allows children under the age of 18 to learn the ropes of the department. 

Martin began his volunteer work through this program.

“I joined as an explorer,” Martin said. “One of [my sister’s] friends had invited her to go to the explorer meeting, and she came home from the meeting and said ‘I think you would like that and you should come to the next meeting.’ So I went to the next meeting and she never showed up again.”

Martin also said in his time working in the district, seven of the last 10 fire chiefs have moved up through the explorer program. He explained they move up through the different positions and “really make it a vocation.” 

The district also recruits on The College at Brockport’s campus at times, encouraging people, especially those who have prior experience, to volunteer.

“You’ve got somebody from Long Island or up in the Adirondacks coming to school here; if they’ve already been involved in their fire service at home, they may come and say ‘hey, I need to keep my training up,’” Martin said. “So they come and join our department as a Mutual Aid member, and they can train with us and they can ride with us and then we forward their training right here back to their home department so they know that they’re keeping stuff up to date. And they’ll allow them to ride when they’re home that break.”

While the district may be short-staffed at the moment, they do their best to keep the municipalities they serve safe.

If you or someone you know are interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter, you can contact the fire chief’s office at 585-637-1030.

 

Photo of the Week

Taken by Mathieu Starke, staff photographer

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