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New York needs more volunteer firefighters. What can be done?

HOST, PASCAL HOGUE: There’s a shortage of volunteer firefighters across New York state - and it’s getting worse. Now The state’s Firefighters Association is calling on Albany to help with recruitment.

HOST, DAVENPORT: The Association says the over 80-thousand people who volunteer respond to over 75% of all emergency calls in the state. Those volunteers save taxpayers a lot - nearly 4-billion dollars per year.

HOGUE: John D’Alessandro is the Secretary of the New York’s Firefighters Association. He’s also an active firefighter in Sara-toga County. I asked him why the state is losing so many volunteers.

JOHN D'ALESSANDRO: There's essentially three reasons. The first and foremost thing that we hear from people, is that they don't have the time if you're trying to not only juggle work, you're taking kids to sporting events and school events.

The second reason that we hear is that look, even if I wanted to do it, I don't know how to do. You know, I couldn't possibly become a volunteer firefighter. And then the third reason is That's not me. I'm not the person running towards a dangerous scene.

I'm the person going the other way. In a career fire department, You have to be, you know, a full fledged firefighter. You have to be able to jump off that apparatus and go into a burning building if need be and extinguish a fire or search for people. In a volunteer department, we have everything from that position, a full fledged firefighter to people that do the books to people that do fundraising.

HOGUE: So it's a lot more than just going out and fighting fires, essentially.

D'ALESSANDRO: Absolutely. So in a volunteer department, you don't have to be an emergency responder. You could be a support person, far away from an emergency scene, but still doing a necessary and critical job for the fire department.

HOGUE: For volunteer firefighters, do they also live in the firehouse? Is it kind of like in the movies where, they go down the pole when someone calls, uh, the emergency?

D'ALESSANDRO: Well, most firehouses these days don't have poles, unfortunately, because government regulations prohibit it. And it kind of varies. I mean, in some volunteer departments, they do with we call duty shifts. So as a volunteer, you would say, Look, I'm available on Tuesdays and Thursday nights from 6 p. m. to midnight.

In other departments like my department, we carry pagers and we have software on our cell phones that when a call comes in, we respond from home.

The interesting thing about volunteers is we're always on duty. We don't have quote unquote days off. If I choose to do so, I can respond to a call seven days a week, 365 days a year, and many volunteer departments run more calls than some career departments do.

HOGUE: What should the state Senate be doing to increase volunteer recruitment?

D'ALESSANDRO: There's a number of pieces of legislation in front of the state legislature right now that we are strongly supporting. Perhaps the most important one is that volunteer firefighters received a 200 New York State income tax credit that was established in 2006. It still remains at 200 today. So as an incentive, to try to attract people to be volunteers, we're supporting legislation to raise that 200 up to 800.

The more things we can offer them, the more likely that we'll be able to get at least the minimum number of people that the volunteer departments need.

HOGUE: John D'Alessandro, thank you so much for your time today.

D'ALESSANDRO: My pleasure.

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