The volunteer Carle Place Fire Department is holding its annual recruitment open house this weekend. NewsdayTV’s Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday Staff

This weekend, more than two dozen fire departments in Nassau and Suffolk are opening their doors, in an effort to recruit members to fill ranks that they say have grown all too thin.

The departments are having open house events as part of the 15th Annual RecruitNY membership drive, part of a statewide initiative organized by the Firefighters Association of the State of New York — in an effort to recruit volunteers to local departments in need of new members.

The drive comes at a time when the volunteer service is in desperate need, the statewide volunteer corps down from about 120,000 total members in the immediate post-9/11 era to about 80,000 now.

Nassau County firefighters said in a census last year, there were slightly more than 6,000 volunteer firefighters serving the county’s 71 fire departments. That was down about 4,000 firefighters from the ranks 20 years ago following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

A recent survey conducted by the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services (FRES) found there are currently more than 13,000 volunteer firefighters throughout the county's 109 fire departments. About 500 volunteers joined last year, a county spokesman said.

Local fire officials said they are trying to address the main roadblocks to landing recruits — factors such as economics, time, and not knowing how to get started. 

“We're opening our doors, showing people some of the benefits to being a volunteer,” Carle Place Fire Assistant Fire Chief William Geddish said Tuesday. “People think you need to be 6-4, 220 pounds to be a member of the department. That's not so. There's a job on the fire grounds for everybody. People who become volunteer firefighters come from all walks of life. You can be an interior firefighter, you can be an exterior firefighter. You can drive the truck, run hoses, direct traffic. Have an administrative role.”

Geddish said at its height, Carle Place had 100 members. Now, it's more like 50.

In an effort to land new recruits, the department won't just host an open house at the firehouse on Sunday. On Saturday, department members will be out in the parking lot at Carle Place High School, being visible, hoping to land new recruits.

FASNY president-elect Eugene Perry, a 44-year veteran of the Patchogue Fire Department, and longtime FASNY spokesperson Rob Leonard said many would-be recruits simply don't know how to get their foot in the door — or, know the benefits to being a volunteer firefighter.

Part of that is the proximity to New York City, where FDNY firefighters are paid employees — and not volunteers, like many departments in the state. In fact, according to FASNY, it would require an investment of about $3.7 billion — about $1 billion on Long Island alone — to convert volunteer departments to a paid firefighting corps. And that's just the layout for firehouse upgrades like bunk rooms and washrooms and showers. There also would be a recurring multibillion-dollar — about $2.7 billion, Leonard said — cost for salaries, supplies and equipment.

County officials understand the economic hit that would entail, which is why Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman and Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine will come together Thursday at the Plainview Fire Department firehouse on Old Country Road in an effort to urge residents to turn out Saturday and volunteer.

 “Being a member of a volunteer department fosters the community spirit. Every department across Suffolk County is in dire need of new members,” Romaine said.

Volunteers can qualify for a stipend to cover training expenses and property owners qualify for a property tax credit of 10%.

Officials at FASNY are also in the process of attempting to land tax credits for volunteers who rent, in order to help offset the economics of being a volunteer.

Training for Long Island-based firefighters is extensive, helping volunteers prepare for myriad roles. In Nassau, would-be firefighters train at the Nassau Fire Service Academy in Bethpage; in Suffolk, they learn at the Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank. But, as officials said, being a volunteer doesn't mean you necessarily have to be an interior structure firefighter.

Departments need administrators, maintenance staff, drivers. Even volunteers who can haul hoses — or direct traffic — at an emergency scene.

If you can't make the open house to find out more, Perry, the FASNY president-elect, said would-be volunteers can go online at recruitny.org or fasny.com.

Or, Perry said, just stop by your local firehouse on any given Sunday.

“If you're really interested, go knock on the door,” he said. “Talk to somebody. Ask what you need to do to get involved. … Believe me, it's rewarding.”

With John Asbury

This weekend, more than two dozen fire departments in Nassau and Suffolk are opening their doors, in an effort to recruit members to fill ranks that they say have grown all too thin.

The departments are having open house events as part of the 15th Annual RecruitNY membership drive, part of a statewide initiative organized by the Firefighters Association of the State of New York — in an effort to recruit volunteers to local departments in need of new members.

The drive comes at a time when the volunteer service is in desperate need, the statewide volunteer corps down from about 120,000 total members in the immediate post-9/11 era to about 80,000 now.

A recruitment sign for a Great Neck department.

A recruitment sign for a Great Neck department. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Nassau County firefighters said in a census last year, there were slightly more than 6,000 volunteer firefighters serving the county’s 71 fire departments. That was down about 4,000 firefighters from the ranks 20 years ago following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

    WHAT TO KNOW

  • This weekend, Long Island's volunteer fire departments will be holding open houses trying to recruit new members.
  • The departments say membership has dwindled dramatically since the terror attacks of 9/11.
  • Fire officials say they are looking for volunteers to perform a variety of duties to help out at emergency scenes, in addition to firefighting itself.

A recent survey conducted by the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services (FRES) found there are currently more than 13,000 volunteer firefighters throughout the county's 109 fire departments. About 500 volunteers joined last year, a county spokesman said.

Local fire officials said they are trying to address the main roadblocks to landing recruits — factors such as economics, time, and not knowing how to get started. 

“We're opening our doors, showing people some of the benefits to being a volunteer,” Carle Place Fire Assistant Fire Chief William Geddish said Tuesday. “People think you need to be 6-4, 220 pounds to be a member of the department. That's not so. There's a job on the fire grounds for everybody. People who become volunteer firefighters come from all walks of life. You can be an interior firefighter, you can be an exterior firefighter. You can drive the truck, run hoses, direct traffic. Have an administrative role.”

Geddish said at its height, Carle Place had 100 members. Now, it's more like 50.

In an effort to land new recruits, the department won't just host an open house at the firehouse on Sunday. On Saturday, department members will be out in the parking lot at Carle Place High School, being visible, hoping to land new recruits.

FASNY president-elect Eugene Perry, a 44-year veteran of the Patchogue Fire Department, and longtime FASNY spokesperson Rob Leonard said many would-be recruits simply don't know how to get their foot in the door — or, know the benefits to being a volunteer firefighter.

Part of that is the proximity to New York City, where FDNY firefighters are paid employees — and not volunteers, like many departments in the state. In fact, according to FASNY, it would require an investment of about $3.7 billion — about $1 billion on Long Island alone — to convert volunteer departments to a paid firefighting corps. And that's just the layout for firehouse upgrades like bunk rooms and washrooms and showers. There also would be a recurring multibillion-dollar — about $2.7 billion, Leonard said — cost for salaries, supplies and equipment.

County officials understand the economic hit that would entail, which is why Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman and Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine will come together Thursday at the Plainview Fire Department firehouse on Old Country Road in an effort to urge residents to turn out Saturday and volunteer.

 “Being a member of a volunteer department fosters the community spirit. Every department across Suffolk County is in dire need of new members,” Romaine said.

Volunteers can qualify for a stipend to cover training expenses and property owners qualify for a property tax credit of 10%.

Officials at FASNY are also in the process of attempting to land tax credits for volunteers who rent, in order to help offset the economics of being a volunteer.

Training for Long Island-based firefighters is extensive, helping volunteers prepare for myriad roles. In Nassau, would-be firefighters train at the Nassau Fire Service Academy in Bethpage; in Suffolk, they learn at the Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank. But, as officials said, being a volunteer doesn't mean you necessarily have to be an interior structure firefighter.

Departments need administrators, maintenance staff, drivers. Even volunteers who can haul hoses — or direct traffic — at an emergency scene.

If you can't make the open house to find out more, Perry, the FASNY president-elect, said would-be volunteers can go online at recruitny.org or fasny.com.

Or, Perry said, just stop by your local firehouse on any given Sunday.

“If you're really interested, go knock on the door,” he said. “Talk to somebody. Ask what you need to do to get involved. … Believe me, it's rewarding.”

With John Asbury

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