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Grant will reimburse volunteer firefighters for tuition

Nassau and Suffolk counties have qualified for federal grants - the amounts to be set later - to reimburse volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers for their college tuition, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday.

Nassau has applied for $1.6 million; Suffolk for $2.5 million, Schumer said.

"We want to get the full amount. We're going to get a good amount. We don't know yet because it's [in] the whole FEMA budget," he said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Schumer had announced his support for the grant applications back in January at Company No. 4 of the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire District in western Nassau, and announced the FEMA decision Tuesday at the East Farmingdale firehouse in western Suffolk.

With the number of volunteer firefighters dropping locally and nationally, both counties are seeking to make the volunteer fire service more attractive.

Schumer attributed the drop to a variety of interconnected factors, including the historical decline of single-income households, the higher cost of living on Long Island that forces more people to work more than one job, and the long commute to New York City jobs that leaves little time for volunteer work.

Nassau had 9,311 volunteer firefighters in January 2009, down 1.8 percent from 9,479 in January 2006, Schumer said.

The reimbursement rate is pegged to the tuition at the local community college, which would be $1,811 per semester in Nassau and $1,788 in Suffolk, Schumer said.

"This funding will help recruit a new wave of local firefighters and first responders to keep our communities safe, will help middle-class families pay for college, and it will ease the burden on local taxpayers by encouraging people to volunteer," he said.

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