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Volunteers can be scarce

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Some fire departments and rescue squads are finding it increasingly difficult to find and keep volunteers because of required training and time commitments.

Gouverneur Rescue Squad volunteer Michael J. Chambers recently told the village Board of Trustees that the squad is evolving into a paid department because of the state’s recertification requirements for emergency medical technicians every three years and because people do not always want to drive to Canton for training because of job demands and the cost of gasoline.

“We can’t afford it,” he said. “Nobody wants to do it.”

Mr. Chambers said he hopes the squad does not turn into a private service.

“If it’s not a volunteer agency, it’s a paid agency, and I’m not able to volunteer,” he said.

The squad is not in dire shape for volunteers, but most of them perform duties other than as EMTs, said Mark A. Deavers, director of operations.

“Our advance providers are all paid,” he said. “There probably will be a day when this is an all-paid squad. I do not foresee it in the immediate future.”

Volunteers are always welcome, and Mr. Deavers said he will step up recruitment efforts.

Aspects of Gouverneur’s situation are mirrored at the Waddington Rescue Squad, the Rensselaer Falls Fire Department and Rescue Squad, and the Newton Falls Fire Department, where commissioners recently locked out a majority of the firefighters because they lacked required training.

The county has scheduled a basic class in scene support for Newton Falls at its station starting June 6 to help get the department functioning again.

Keeping a volunteer base is ongoing, county Director of Emergency Services Joseph M. Gilbert said.

“To me, it’s a systemic issue across the services,” he said. “They still need the volunteers to train.”

The county is trying to raise awareness of the needs of its emergency units and letting people know that not every volunteer job requires a large commitment of time. Volunteers can assist in many different ways, from fundraising to driving, Mr. Gilbert said.

The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York has recognized the need for volunteers and provided the northern region, including those in St. Lawrence, Jefferson and Lewis counties, with a $4.2 million grant to help fire departments since 2011 with their recruitment efforts.

The number of volunteers across the state has dropped from 115,000 to 80,000 two years ago, said Dale F. Barker, Edwards, FASNY assistant volunteer programs coordinator. “The departments that are struggling, they’re not showing up,” he said. “If they’re not willing to help themselves, how can we help?”

FASNY has a program that helps people pursue a two-year degree in return for volunteering for a fire department for the following four years.

No one in St. Lawrence County has joined the program. Jefferson County has had a few, and Lewis County had a nurse who completed her training with help from FASNY.

“It’s a great program, but we need the volunteer departments to help us get the word out,” Mr. Barker said.

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