Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter can go any Tuesday night to fill out an application.
"Recruit Chautauqua 2014!" is an open house held at participating fire departments to show interested applicants how they do things. This year's open houses will be held on April 26, a Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Chautauqua County Emergency Services Safer Grant Coordinator Daniel Imfeld said a grant provides funds to volunteer firefighters who want to go to college.
OBSERVER Photo by Jasmine Willis
The West Dunkirk Fire Department, located at 4741 Willow Road, is accepting new volunteer firefighters. Anyone interested can come down Tuesdays at 7 p.m. to fill out an application. They have to be at least 18 years old.
Those interested in college can get college credit and have up to two years of college paid for if they agree to give their local fire departments five years of service.
There are two basic classes given. The firefighter class is for those who want to battle fires, while the scene support class is for those more interested in the medical aspect of things.
"Not everyone has to go into the burning building," Imfeld said.
Each department is different, but for most, the starting age for volunteers is 18. Some have a junior program, which allows 17 year olds to join. Some allow as young as 14 year olds to participate.
"Restricted members get experience at age 15 to 17," Imfeld said. "They can't respond during school days, but it gets the younger folks involved."
The Fireman Association of State of New York, or FASNY, only offers volunteers college help if they go to a community college.
The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Re-sponse Grants allows volunteers to go to a community college, trade school or SUNY Fredonia and pays for two years; reimbursement for SUNY Fredonia students the first two years of college.
"A struggling economy and changing family dynamic have put strains on volunteer fire departments in recent years," Imfeld said. "Let's work together to reverse the decline in volunteers by educating and drawing in more members; showing the public just what it means to be a volunteer."
Cassadaga Fire Depart-ment Chief Tim Cobb encourages anyone in Cassadaga to come down and volunteer.
"If anyone wants to volunteer, they need to show up and fill out an application," Cobb said. "We always want new people."
Cobb pointed out 17 year olds are welcome with parental consent to join.
"One of the things we do is we don't say 'don't help;' we can't let someone jump right in without training," he said. "Just show up to a call and see how it's done."
Cobb explained that the training process depends on what the volunteer is interested in.
"It is 30 hours for fire police and scene support, 100 hours for interior firefighters and 190 hours for EMTs," he said.
Cobb noted there are scholarships volunteers can get through Jamestown Community College and state fire courses, which go toward JCC credits.
Cobb said volunteer firefighters also receive $200 in tax credit.
"We are all a big family here," he said. "We have some lifetime members who a lot of us younger guys look up to. I have been here 10 years and I still learn a lot from the old generation."
Cobb said anyone is welcome to come and visit the fire hall.
"Anyone is welcome to come down and take a tour any time and check out how we operate. As long as someone is there, people can come," he said. "Tuesday nights are the best time to visit the fire department."
Cobb noted Tuesday is when they do the training.
"We usually train Tuesday nights," he said. "We pump water, do ladder drills, climb on roofs and do a lot of in-house stuff, too."
West Dunkirk Fire Department Chief Steven Davis wants anyone 18 years of age or older to come down any Tuesday around 7 p.m. to fill out an application.
"We will explain the full operation and have them fill out an application," he said. "The training varies for interior and exterior firefighters as well as EMTs."
Lily Dale Fire Depart-ment First Assistant Keith Burridge encourages anyone within five miles of Lily Dale to volunteer.
"We are always looking for people," he said. "We do two hours of drills every Tuesday night; ice water rescues in Cassadaga Lake."
Burridge added the EMT courses count as quarter college credits.
"We get an average of 20 members," he said.
Silver Creek Fire Depart-ment Chief Jeffrey Grie-wisch noted it is a long process to volunteer.
"It's a lengthy process, takes two months; we do background checks and a lot of paper work," he said. "It is an easy process. After the paper shuffle is done, we get the members into the department."
Griewisch explained that training varies and firefighters receive more than 100 hours of training at Murphy's Training Center in the town of Dunkirk.
"We do 80 hours of in-house training a year and familiarize people with where things are and the jaws of life," he said. "Murphy's Training Center is back and very beautiful; they had to do updates to it; people were going to the Jamestown Training Center. It's nice to be close again."
Griewisch noted women usually volunteer for scene support.
"They want to know the medical side of it. They join the emergency squad and have 16 hours of training," he said. "They still need to understand the concept of interior firefighters and go through basic fire extinguishing and ladder-rising training."
For the past 20 years, Silver Creek has used the Explorer Program, which allows Boy Scouts to start the learning process.
"They start the learning process at 14 and can join at 16," Griewisch said. "After taking state classes at 17, they join the Junior Program, and by 18, they belong to the fire department."
"They hit the ground running," he continued. "We get an extra four years out of them before they get the gist of things and they all do a fantastic job."
Griewisch said volunteers only need to keep a C+ average to get two years tuition paid for and they must be in service for five years.
"Every year, the college notifies us and we let them know if they are still active in service and how good they are doing," he said. "As long as they stay five years on the road, they get their college paid for."
"There are some who don't stick to it, and we have had to let them go," he continued. "They have to pay back their college tuition if they don't complete."
Griewisch noted Silver Creek holds one of the best open houses during Recruitment Day in the county.
"We might do a live burn show; we show them a car on fire and how we stop it," he said. "We show them what we do and they can come and sign up."
"We don't allow smoking; if we catch them smoking, they are out," he said. "A couple years ago, we had 12 out of 17 kids stay in the fire department."
"I always say you get out of the program what you put into it and if you do it right you can make a lot of new friends," he continued. "I am a third-generation fireman myself, been here 36 years and my boys are coming up after me; we teach them helping people is what it is all about."