By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
COEYMANS — The number of volunteer firefighters has declined nationally, but the need remains — and Coeymans Fire Company is hoping to draw in a few more willing to help their community.
The fire company last weekend held an open house and recruitment drive in an effort to inform the public and encourage people to sign up.
“Two weeks ago, we went out into the district and handed out envelopes announcing this drive, and we advertised it to the public on social media,” said Past Chief Bill Bruno, who chaired the recruitment drive. “It’s an open house but it’s really a recruitment drive — we are trying to bring in new members.”
With the slogan “Do you have a fire in you?” posted around the firehouse, members were looking to sign up new people who want to help out. Declining numbers of volunteers are a problem for all fire companies, Bruno said.
“There is a national shortage of volunteers,” he said. “In our community, a lot of younger people have moved out of town and we just can’t replace them. It’s difficult. We are getting older — I am 60 years old and I am still an active firefighter. We need to get more people, and younger people.”
The department currently has about 30 firefighters who respond to the roughly 150 fire calls that come in a year, and there are additional members who help out in other ways, but the number of volunteers who actually respond to emergencies is about half of what it once was.
“At one time, we had over 60,” Bruno said. “I’d love to get to 50 members, that would be a great number because we have to cover 24/7 and people work during the day. A lot of our people during the day are retirees or maybe shift workers. On nights and weekends, there are more people around, but we need to recruit more members.”
The company does need active firefighters who can go into a burning building, but there are many roles that need to be filled, and just about anyone can help the fire department out in some capacity.
“Regardless of where you live, go visit your local fire department and talk to the people who do it. People think they are too old, or that they are not in the best of health, or they don’t have time. Everybody in this room has some of that going on, but there is a spot for everyone,” Bruno said.
There are volunteer opportunities for both men and women, younger and older people, and many ways to help.
“If you have a passion for this, or if you develop a passion, we want you here. There is something for everybody,” Bruno said. “Not every call is a house burning — there are automobile accidents, we have people who are medically trained, we have specialties like people who want to do water rescues on a boat. And there are behind-the-scenes activities as well. There is something for everybody.”
There are also different levels of training. Those trained for both interior and exterior firefighting undergo the highest levels of training, for about 125 hours, and exterior firefighters do about half that level of training, or roughly 70 hours.
Fire Chief Mark Deyo has volunteered with the fire company since he was 16 years old and said there are plenty of ways to get involved.
“There’s a lot of opportunities, and a lot of different skills that we need,” Deyo said. “It’s not just running into a building that is on fire. You see crazy stuff on TV and it’s not all about that. There are a lot of things that we do — we help the rescue squad, and there’s a lot of industry in town that we have had to adapt to and respond to, we have calls on the river, we do rope rescues. Obviously, we respond to fires and car accidents. Come down and see what we do.”
The department conducts drills every Monday night, from 7-9 p.m., keeping their skills sharp. Anyone in the community is welcome to come in and check it out, Deyo said.
For volunteers who get involved, the fire company becomes a way of life.
“It’s another family,” Deyo said. “It’s important to us that we get out and help people in the community. There are people here that have volunteered for 40, 50, 60 years. And we have people from all walks of life — from construction backgrounds to law backgrounds.”
“It is its own community and its own family,” he added. “Once you develop that sense of being able to get out and help your neighbors, it becomes contagious and people keep coming back.”
Erin Datri is president of the fire company’s Auxiliary, which accepts both women and men, and serves as a fundraising arm of the department and aids the firefighters in their work.
“We do fundraisers to raise money so we can support the firemen and the community itself,” Datri said. “Our biggest fundraiser is the craft fair we have the first Saturday of December every year. Other times of the year we do pancake breakfasts, we do fun events, we adopt families during the holidays.”
The Auxiliary is also looking for active members willing to help out.