Governor Andrew M. Cuomo last week signed a bill to help volunteer fire companies boost their ranks. Various supporters of the bill have since sent statements highlighting its promise.
The bill calls for creation of a task force to directly address current crises in volunteer firefighter recruitment and retention. The task force's charge will be to develop recommendations and policy changes to assist companies across the state, and issue a report to the state Legislature and Cuomo by next year.
The framework of the new law came from an early bill introduced by state Assembly Member Mike Norris, R-Lockport. A marked-up version, co-sponsored by Norris, was passed and signed into law on Nov. 11.
“In the news, we often hear about the turmoil going on in politics but I think it’s crucial that people also hear about how their government can work to get things accomplished,” said Norris. “I’m pleased to have delivered on this issue, particularly because our fire companies do so much to protect all of us.”
Low recruitment and the aging out of existing volunteers have become a major concern for fire companies and the communities that rely on them for public safety services, according to Norris.
“I’m really glad that this task force will be examining ways that we can get more people involved in volunteering,” he said. “New ideas they will explore include partnering with BOCES and giving educational credit to younger people who want to serve their community. Volunteer fire companies remain the backbone of our rural and suburban communities and we must continue providing them with the tools and resources necessary to keep us safe.”
According to the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY), the task force will be composed of key stakeholders from the fire service, the executive branch, the legislature and state agencies. It will meet throughout 2021 and produce a report with a series of recommendations on policy changes, new programs and incentives to increase both recruitment and retention.
FASNY already has a few suggestions to boost volunteer ranks, including bringing FF1 training into high school and community college curriculums and course offerings for school credit. That will build an immediate pool of trained recruits, the association suggested.