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Syosset FD wants to diversify its pool of volunteers

From left, Syosset firefighters Rachel Share, Pete Silver,

From left, Syosset firefighters Rachel Share, Pete Silver, Kerri Kozey, Chris McDermott, Bill Bowie and Barbara Kanzenberg, seen on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, are featured in a banner meant to reflect the department's growing diversity and attract new volunteers. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Syosset firefighter Rachel Share believes that some women don’t consider volunteering for the fire department because they view it as a male bastion.

“I think some women just think they can’t do it, that it’s not for them,” Share said.

A photo of Share, 45, with nine fellow firefighters is now plastered on the side of Syosset Fire Department headquarters as part of a new effort to recruit more women, Asian-Americans, business executives and others who traditionally have been less likely to volunteer.

“We need to break down these barriers, whether it be culture, gender, age or whatever it is,” said Robert Leonard, 49, a member of the department’s recruitment committee. “We’re recognizing that our community is changing and that we need to change our approach.”

Among those on the poster with Share are two other women, two college students, a doctor, a pharmaceutical sales executive and men of Chinese and Pakistani background.

“We are Syosset. We are volunteers,” the poster says. “Join us and make a difference!”

The men of Chinese and Pakistani ancestry are among an Asian population in Syosset that increased from less than 13 percent of the area’s residents in 2000 to more than 22 percent in 2010-14, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Tommy Lee, 42, a Taiwanese-born construction manager, said his face on the poster could signal to others of Chinese ancestry that they’d be welcome in the department.

“We have different nationalities, different backgrounds in the department,” he said. “Why don’t we use that tool to get people to know that this is for everybody?”

Syosset’s aging population and growing number of homes with automatic fire alarms has led to a rise in fire and medical calls, creating a need for more volunteers to replace older firefighters as they leave the force, said Rich Roseo, a Syosset fire commissioner.

College students like Robert Hyde, 21, who is on the banner, are coveted, not only because they could be on the force for years if they stay in Syosset, but also because they often have more flexible hours. Hyde said he schedules his classes to create blocks of time for firefighting.

The banner is in a prime location, near the sole exit for the busy Syosset Long Island Rail Road station. In the future, the department plans to produce smaller versions of the banner to distribute as posters to churches, synagogues and other community institutions, Roseo said. There also may be mailings to local homes.

Roseo said some potential recruits don’t think they have time to volunteer, which is why the banner shows firefighters in their work clothes, to illustrate they are able to fit volunteering in their often-busy schedules. People unable to leave their jobs to respond to a call can volunteer during their off-hours, Roseo said.

“Everybody’s home at some point,” he said.

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