Volunteer firefighters needed

PLATTSBURGH Imagine how youd feel if a fire broke out in your kitchen and quickly started spreading toward the living room. The flames are crackling louder and louder as you scramble to get everyone out of the house. The smoke is getting thicker but you manage to find the phone to dial 9-1-1. Now imagine the dispatcher saying, Im sorry your local fire department was closed due to a lack of volunteers, but Ill try calling other areas for assistance just try to stay calm. That may be a bit far-fetched, but reality is, theres a serious lack of volunteer firefighters in the Champlain Fire District and the same can probably be said for many other departments statewide. Dwindling membership Champlain Fire District Commissioner John Filion has been a firefighter for more than 40 years. When he first signed up there was a yearlong waiting list for a chance to be on the 40-man roster, most of whom were active members. The maximum membership has now been bumped up to 55, and there are just 38 on the roster only 20-25 of which are really active. Those facts are rather frightening to Filion, fellow commissioner John Southwick and Financial Secretary John Jack Dawson, as they wonder how the department will continue on with such a lack of volunteerism. I honestly dont know the answer, said Filion. It used to be that there was only the Knights of Columbus and the local fire department (for people to join), said Southwick. Now therere all sorts of things to compete with. Most families nowadays need two sources of income to survive, and their children are involved in all sorts of extra-curricular activities and community groups. There is so much more of a demand on peoples time, its a different kind of society that we live in, said Dawson. We are a transient society, said Dawson. Many (people) dont identify with their own communities, so they are less likely to commit time to them. In his opinion these changes have been happening because people tend to travel to other communities to go to work, for banking and for worship. The commitment Becoming a firefighter is a big commitment, with a lot more training involved than there was in the past. Forty years ago the training lasted for six nights. Years later the training became more intensive taking up to 72-76 hours to complete. Now the bare necessity course to become a firefighter takes 160 hours. That may be a hindrance, Ill agree, said Dawson. But at the same time it is also an indication of just how proficient and well-trained these men end up being. As Fire Chief Chris Trombley pointed out, therere much more involved than just fighting fires. The Champlain district serves an area with a large international border crossing, which sees hundreds of trucks go through each day carrying all sorts of different gases and chemicals. Theres also the potential for accidents along Interstate 87 to worry about, the railroad, water rescue, given the proximity to Lake Champlain, frequent mutual aide calls for help with large structure fires and of course the occasional flooding. Being a firefighter certainly is not a dull job, and theres more to it than answering emergency calls. We have preventative maintenance on our vehicles and equipment. It takes a lot of money, time and effort to keep our equipment up to date and safe, Filion said. We are quite fortunate for our community support and taxpayers that help us foot the bills, Southwick added. Dawson said they are also grateful to have guys with a vast knowledge when it comes to that aspect of the job. Second Assistant Chief John Filion, Jr. is one that came to mind. Hes very committed and spends a great deal of time with hands-on study and research, then has the ability to communicate what hes learned to other members, Southwick said. We need about 30 more like that. The reward Filion (Jr.) remembered dreaming of the day that he could become a volunteer, just like his father always was. Ive learned a lot of lifes lessons through the fire department, he said. Now he teaches at the Alburgh Fire School. I cant imagine my world without having been a firefighter, he said, even though it is often difficult trying to maintain a balance between his duties as a firefighter and his home life. I consider myself quite lucky to have a wife, Cindy, who is very understanding, he said. I have two stepchildren that dont get to visit very often, so I have agreed to stay home when they do. Todd Jarvis also juggles a full-time job, married life and being president of the Niagara Hose Company. It became a lot easier when my wife joined the Womens Auxiliary, he said. That, he said gives her a sense of involvement as well. It takes a group of people to make up a fire department, Southwick said. Theres a job for everyone. Perhaps people think you have to be related to an existing member in order to join, but thats not so. Theres no invitation needed, said Trombley. Consider yourself asked. Being a firefighter keeps me going, its a good feeling knowing that I can help the community, said Filion (Jr.) Its all about the feeling you get when that house is still standing after a fire, Southwick added. We dont have to get paid, the reward comes when they say thank you, and you know theyre being sincere.

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