Local fire departments open their doors for ‘RecruitNY’

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Apr 26, 2016 Comments Off on Local fire departments open their doors for ‘RecruitNY’ Admin

— Armed with axes and hydraulic spreaders and cutters — commonly called the “Jaws of Life” — volunteers of the Cicero Fire Department tore apart a Dodge Intrepid on April 20. They burst the glass in the windows, popped the trunk and worked to pry the doors off the car.

The controlled destruction was part of the CFD’s biweekly training exercises. Wednesday’s vehicle extrication was also a glimpse into the life of a volunteer firefighter ahead of the April 23 to 24 “RecruitNY” initiative, in which more than 500 fire departments across the state invite the public to their stations.

“This is one of the more fun things we do — of course, it's not fun when we're on a real call,” volunteer firefighter and Cicero Town Councilor Mike Becallo said of the vehicle extrication exercise.

Becallo and his fellow volunteer firefighters joined Chief Jon Barrett, representatives from the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) and local lawmakers April 20 to invite community members to visit area firehouses this weekend and learn how they support their local fire departments.

“A very small portion of your taxes go to support fire service,” said George Davenport, recruitment and retention chair for FASNY in Onondaga County. “You really need to get into the station to see the need your fire department has.”

Nina Alfano began volunteering for the Cicero Fire Department as a way to “pay it forward” after CFD volunteers responded to her mother’s cardiac arrest. She said there are many ways to help out within the fire department.

“There’s many roles and duties you may do if getting on the engine and fighting a fire isn’t the deal for you,” Alfano said.

Barrett said the CFD has 74 active members and accepts members in cycles every three months throughout the year. His goal is to recruit five new members per cycle.

“Over the past few years, I think we’ve probably averaged [at] the highest eight members, which has been great,” Barrett said. “It’s up and down. It has its challenges.”

Barrett said some volunteers “start out strong,” but because of changes in their families or job situations, “they scale back.” Becallo said the department understands that it’s “family first, job second and the fire department third.” While family comes first, Barrett said building camaraderie through training and going on calls makes volunteer firefighters a “second family.”

Volunteer firefighter Karen Nicholas said her two sons and her husband joined the CFD one by one, and she followed suit, first joining as an associate member and helping with fundraisers and day-to-day operations. Nicholas went on to receive emergency medical technician and firefighter training, and now she is the department’s assistant treasurer.

She said she enjoys hearing community members tell stories of how firefighters saved their lives or homes, and she’s had thankful residents leave gifts and notes on her doorstep.

“I’ve even gotten hugs,” Nicholas said.

For volunteers Ralph Howe and Andrew Sager, it’s not about the recognition or appreciation.

“The best part is not the thank-you, it’s that person’s worst day of their life — their basement’s flooded, their child’s not breathing — you’re able to turn it around,” Howe said.

Sager said he gets “that tingly, good feeling” from volunteering, and he sometimes recognizes people he’s helped while at the grocery store, even if they don’t recognize him without his turnout gear.

“It feels good that they’re still standing there with a smile,” Sager said.

As much as firefighters derive satisfaction from helping their neighbors in need, it’s up to the community to lend a hand to fire departments, too.

“They sacrifice meals with families … to respond and keep you safe and keep your family safe,” Davenport said.

“We need to help you,” Barrett said. “We want you to help us.”

For more information, visit recruitny.org or contact your local volunteer fire department.

Star Review - April 23, 2016

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