A state survey set for release Thursday found positive perceptions...

A state survey set for release Thursday found positive perceptions of volunteer firefighters. Credit: Lee S. Weissman

A majority of New Yorkers believe that volunteer firefighters generate a net savings for local governments, and nearly half expressed interest in signing up, according to a survey released Thursday amid steep declines in the ranks of Nassau County fire departments.

The poll was conducted in mid-January of 1,000 state residents, excluding New York City. The results reveal positive public perceptions of volunteer firefighters and the savings they provide to their respective communities compared to the steep costs of an all-career fire service.

Nearly 30% of those polled identified themselves as current or former Long Island residents or employees. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3%.

Edward Tase Jr., president of the Firefighters Association of the State of New York, which commissioned the poll, said it’s critical to educate the public about the expanded role of volunteer firefighters.

What to know

  • A majority of New Yorkers believe that volunteer firefighters generate a net savings for local governments, and nearly half expressed interest in signing up.
  • Nearly 30% of those polled identified themselves as current or former Long Island residents or employees.
  • The survey found that 98% of those polled said volunteer firefighters and emergency medical services are important for the health and safety of their community.

“The volunteer fire service today is not just about putting the wet stuff on the red stuff,” said Tase, a longtime volunteer firefighter in Niagara County. “Volunteer firefighters in our area go out and shovel people out of snowstorms when we get 60 inches of snow in two days … It’s more than just running into burning buildings.”

The state firefighters association kicked off its 15th annual recruitment drive Thursday with the official release of the survey findings during a news conference at the Nassau County Firefighters Museum and Education Center in Uniondale.

The survey found strong support for the institution of volunteer firefighting, with just over 80% indicating that the cost savings, which the association estimates to be $4.7 billion annually, had a positive impact on the community.

In addition, 98% of those polled said volunteer firefighters and emergency medical services are important for the health and safety of their community, and 94% said they looked up to firefighters.

The top descriptions of volunteer firefighters from survey respondents were “good people” (79%), “heroes” (76%) and “strong” (73%). Meanwhile, just under two-thirds of those polled said firefighters are better at making tough decisions than the average American.

Converting to an all-career fire service, the association said, would put taxpayers on the hook for a one-time cost of $8 billion for infrastructure and equipment and raise property taxes by an average of 28% statewide.

Last April, Nassau County released the first census of its fire service, composed of 71 volunteer departments, which found that their ranks had dwindled by nearly 4,000 firefighters in the past 22 years — from 10,000 firefighters after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to 6,178 volunteers in 2023.

Suffolk County, which has 106 volunteer fire departments, has not conducted a similar census of its volunteer ranks.

Statewide, the number of volunteer firefighters has dropped by almost 40,000 during the past two decades, according to the state firefighters association.

Nassau County Fire Marshal Mike Uttaro said one key to boosting the ranks is for volunteer departments to more accurately reflect the demographics of the communities they serve.

“For the longest time, the volunteer fire service has always been known as a pillar of every local community,” Uttaro said. “And as our county and its demographics are changing, so too should each fire department. Your fire company should be a reflection of what your community demographics are.”

Another key, Tase said, is offering financial incentives to young people.

For example, the state firefighters association wants to raise the current income tax credit for volunteer firefighters from $200 to $800 and remove a prohibition that disallows members from accessing both the income tax credit and a local real estate property tax exemption.

Nassau County, meanwhile, has incentivized volunteers by offering breaks on property taxes and free tuition at Nassau Community College.

“The community recognizes the value of the volunteer fire service, and they want to get involved,” Tase said. “So, we have to entice them and give them the incentives to be able to come and say, ‘Hey, I want to volunteer.’”

At the news conference, Regina Cabrera said she joined the Patchogue Volunteer Fire Department at the age of 40 for the challenge.

“I also thought to myself that watching Netflix isn't going to cut it right now,” she said. “… I wanted to do something selfless for my community and put myself out there and see what I'm capable of.”

With Howard Schnapp

LIRR crime rate … School budget votes … Long Beach summer restrictions Credit: Newsday

Person struck by train ... LIRR crime rate ... West Islip drowning ... LI's disco fever

LIRR crime rate … School budget votes … Long Beach summer restrictions Credit: Newsday

Person struck by train ... LIRR crime rate ... West Islip drowning ... LI's disco fever

Latest Videos

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME