GVFC hosts Recruit NY event on April 26
By Michael Turton
Recruit NY puts an annual spotlight on local fire companies to help them attract new volunteers, and members of the Garrison Volunteer Fire Company (GVFC) hope they will reap the benefits of the statewide program. On Sunday, April 26, GVFC will open the doors of its Route 9 firehouse to the community from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The fire company, established in 1929, actually has an open house every Sunday, but this week the emphasis will be on convincing residents of the benefits of becoming a firefighter.
Free food and refreshments may help motivate some people to stop by, but Joe Mercurio, GVFC’s public information officer, emphasizes a much more serious reason why the community should come out and consider volunteering.
“Statewide, fire companies are having trouble recruiting,” Mercurio said. “In Garrison, the demographics work against us so we have to try even harder. We have an older … less dense population, and a lot of the younger families come from the city where firefighters are paid.” Nationwide, 75 percent of all firefighters are volunteers, he said.
Firehouse as family outing
Mercurio suggests that entire families consider visiting the firehouse on Sunday. “Young children can play on the fire trucks, and teenagers can learn about becoming a junior firefighter,” he said. While that may plant a seed in kids’ minds about joining the fire company in the future, Sunday’s Recruit NY event is really about attracting new members now.
“Adults of all ages can find a place with us,” Mercurio said. “Some (can) train to become interior firefighters, others to go to fires and accidents and help with exterior support.” At a structure fire, only firefighters who have completed extensive specialized training are permitted to enter the interior of a burning building.
Mercurio points out that not everyone has to be a firefighter to support the fire company. Non-firefighting roles include fire police, directing traffic, helping operate equipment at calls, filing reports and maintaining equipment at the GVFC’s two firehouses. “And we also need people to help with administrative activities,” he said.
A junior fire corps welcomes future firefighters between the ages of 14 and 17 and educates the young members as they help complete tasks at the firehouse. The GVFC Auxiliary assists the fire company by providing food and drink at fire scenes and at the firehouse during extended events. Auxiliary members also help during regional weather emergencies, assist with fundraising, help conduct fire prevention programs and work at community events.
Women almost a third of members
Active members must be 18 years of age and pass a medical exam before training to become an exterior or interior firefighter.
GVFC currently has 48 active members, including 18 interior firefighters and 30 exterior firefighters. Those totals include one new probationary member and three junior members. “Older members tend to (serve as) drivers, pump operators, then fall back to exterior duties and then to management,” Mercurio said.
Firehouses may have been a strictly male domain in the past, but that’s no longer the case — 30 percent of GVFC’s active members are women. Donna Corsi is the GVFC president. Duties that firefighters carry out are based solely on the level of training completed, not gender. “You advance in rank and responsibilities depending on your training,” Mercurio said.
Training is extensive with programs taking place on Tuesday evenings and Sunday mornings at the firehouse. State and county agencies as well as the FBI and railroad companies carry out some of the training. Formal courses can range from 21 to 97 hours, and some are conducted online.
Emergencies can happen any time of day, and GVFC’s personnel needs reflect that. Mercurio said that there is always a demand for firefighters who are available to answer calls during the day. Volunteering can be a challenge for commuters, but Mercurio said they can help out whenever they are in the community. As for the number of hours of service required,
“There is no real minimum,” he said. “Those who can show up more receive more training, get more experience and are given more responsibility,” and become eligible for leadership positions.
Service, camaraderie, fitness
While the satisfaction felt by members in providing their community with a vital service at events such as fires, traffic accidents and weather emergencies is the number one benefit of joining a volunteer fire company, Mercurio said there are other “perks” as well. “There is a real sense of camaraderie, and you get to meet fellow community members,” he said.
He also listed teaching fire safety at local schools and helping to train other fire companies as highly satisfying. Even the firefighter training is a plus in Mercurio’s mind. “It’s all paid for” by GVFC and “the training is actually very interesting,” he said.
GVFC also has its own gym where firefighters can work out. Fitness is not a frill. The leading cause of death among firefighters, whether volunteer or paid, is heart attack brought on by the stress of working at fire scenes and other emergency situations. The fire company also offers a “service award” program — a pension based on years of service and points earned while a volunteer. Life insurance is also provided.
Asked what the optimum number of volunteers might be for the GVFC, Mercurio said, “You are always 20 short no matter how many you have!”
Residents who want to know more about the GVFC but can’t attend the April 26 Recruit NY event can visit the Route 9 firehouse any Sunday morning. Learn more at garrisonfd.org.
Photos courtesy of GVFC