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Fire departments join in RecruitNY weekend to draw more volunteers

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ADAMS CENTER — A group of firefighters stood outside the Adams Center Volunteer Fire Department on Sunday afternoon, waiting.

At the third annual RecruitNY open house, the men were not waiting for a fire call. They were waiting for potential volunteer firefighters.

“We have 20 active” members, said Adams Center Fire Chief Mark C. Thomas. “We’ll take as many as we can get. ... We have a large number of functions that need to be filled, and the more people we can have show up on trucks in the initial stages, the better the possibility of saving the building.”

The weekend-long event was arranged statewide to encourage people interested in volunteer firefighting to apply. The Adams Center station, at 13401 North St., had its equipment on display, a cookout going and a number of volunteers on hand to answer questions.

The process of becoming a volunteer, Mr. Thomas said, involves filling out the required application, taking a physical exam, undergoing a background check and being voted in by members of the department. After that, volunteers must take either scene support or Firefighter I classes.

Firefighter I training takes 110 hours and qualifies volunteers to enter burning buildings. Scene support involves 27 hours of training. The only cost to the volunteer, aside from gasoline, is time.

“Your requirement is to get up and go, whether it’s dinnertime, time for bed or the middle of the night. I’ve been known to grab a pork chop off the table,” said Herbert A. Lucas, a volunteer at Adams Center since 1989. “Normal people run away from fires. Firemen run into them.”

“It’s an A-type personality; they’re not afraid to go into a burning building ... service before self,” said Matthew B. Zahler, who joined the Adams Center crew after last year’s RecruitNY event.

They all agreed the job requires dedication.

“It’s a chance to give back to the community,” said third-year volunteer Danial B. Rowland.

“It inspires confidence,” said Errin E. Thomas, who is married to the fire chief. “You get to learn how to do a lot of things going in that you don’t think you’d be able to do. It’s empowering.”

“I’ve been wanting to (join) since I was 3. My dad was here; he’s a firefighter,” said 24-year-old Ashley L. Parks, a five-year volunteer.

“I think anyone even thinking about it should try it. ... The Fire Department can use support in all areas,” Mrs. Thomas said.

There’s a position on the team for pretty much anyone, she said, whether it’s as an interior firefighter or a scene supporter. Fire police, such as Mr. Lucas, help out with traffic control at the scene.

In addition to fighting fires, men and women also respond to car accidents and downed trees and wires, and help to set up helicopter landing zones.

Fire Departments across Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties opened their doors for the RecruitNY event.

In St. Lawrence County, DeKalb Junction Fire Chief Robert Drake said, “We’re looking for younger recruits to get involved. There’s a lot of older people in the department.”

The DeKalb Junction Volunteer Fire Department has about 32 volunteers. Mr. Drake said he has room on his roster for at least 20 more.

In Lewis County, West Leyden interior firefighter Matthew Chrysler said his department is not the only one struggling to boost membership. “We rely heavily on mutual aid from neighboring districts,” he said. “We really are looking for a lot of volunteers.”

Anyone interested in becoming a firefighter is encouraged to contact a volunteer fire department for details.

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