Welcome to the Firehouse

Local volunteer fire departments opened their firehouse doors to the public Saturday for RecruitNY open houses, part of a statewide effort to increase recruitment and let the public know they are still part of the community.

The open houses, held in conjunction with the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, are conducted yearly in an attempt to drum up support and volunteers for the local fire departments and give people a look into the work they do.

Many of the local departments allowed people to come in and look around, speak with members of the department and learn how the machinery works.

Ken Felthousen, chief of the Sir William Johnson Volunteer Fire Department in the town of Johnstown, showed off the department’s Jaws of Life extraction tool, which is used to spread, cut or ram pieces of metal out of the way to free victims from car wrecks.

At the Perth Volunteer Fire Department, volunteer Ritchie White demonstrated how firefighters use a plywood tunnel to practice escaping from a burning building. According to White, if something wrong happens while volunteers are inside the house, they have to make their escape by any means necessary. At times, firefighters need to break through the sheetrock of a wall and crawl through any vent or passageway they can find before they run out of oxygen.

“The maze is actually built as a confidence builder,” White said, gesturing to the narrow tunnel filled with wires and crossbeams. White began to crawl through the tunnel, wearing full equipment and a oxygen mask, the tank held out in front of him to allow him to fit.

“It is the tactical side of firefighting,” White said.

White said if a firefighter were to run out of oxygen and rip off his mask, he would breathe in toxins from the burning carpet and furniture.

“All the furniture has chemicals in it now; it’s one of the number one killers of firefighters,” White said.

Firefighter Wes Jones said attendance was light on Saturday at the Tribes Hill Volunteer Fire Department.

“Really, it’s about keeping the doors open,” Jones said.

Many volunteer fire departments have had difficulty trying to recruit new volunteers in recent years, but Felthousen said that is turning around for some.

“There are a lot of other fire companies who are getting more and more people signing up,” he said.

He attributes the increase to people wanting to help the community.

John Lesniewski, president of the Perth Volunteer Fire Department, said more volunteers are always needed for many departments. However, he said, they do not need only firefighters, but anyone who can lend assistance to the department.

Felthousen said the requirements to be a firefighter include passing a background check, being 18 years old and passing the necessary training courses.

FASNY also has tried to recruit through other means. The website for FASNY notes it has developed the Higher Education Learning Plan – a program providing tuition reimbursement to individuals attending community college for up to 80 credit hours. Student-volunteers are eligible to have up to 100 percent of their tuition reimbursed in exchange for maintaining their grades and fulfilling defined service requirements.

For more information about how people can help support their local volunteer fire departments, see www.fasny.com.

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