ELIZABETHTOWN — Volunteer fire departments in the North Country are nearing a flashover and for many local departments, there isn’t an extinguisher in sight.
The main accelerants are manpower and recruitment.
A generation of fighters are aging out of the profession and there’s no one waiting in the wings to replace them.
Other stressors are the same that curse other agencies across the region: dwindling budgets, a plummeting population and an increase in state mandates.
North Country departments have two additional strikes against them: Sparsely-populated areas make consolidation tricky and a paralyzed tax base makes it difficult to hire paid staffers.
To combat the situation, several local departments will participate in RecruitNY, a statewide effort this weekend by the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) to recruit new blood by throwing open their department doors to showcase equipment, vehicles and otherwise engage the public and igniting an interest in civic involvement.
Isaac Guenther, Second Lieutenant of the Elizabethtown Fire Department, said while it’s in the nature of volunteer departments to deal with an ebb and flow of resources, it becomes a problem when firefighters are faced with the prospects that they might not have enough guys to man a truck.
Guenther said although his department has enough people to get the job done — about 30 people are involved in the organization — the real issue is maintaining a consistent flow of newcomers to replenish those that are aging out.
“The brain trust of experience and knowledge are getting older and in some places, are getting to the point where they can’t engage in the work of firefighting,” he said. “They just can’t focus as they did at a later time in their lives. We have a great crew, a dedicated crew, and we’re looking to bolster the people we already have.”