Firefighters, faced with dwindling volunteers, react to state proposal

Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 5:14 PM EST
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WEST CARTHAGE, New York (WWNY) - Tax breaks, training stipends and a partial salary. That’s how New York state may tackle the ongoing drought in volunteer firefighters.

Across the state, membership in volunteer fire departments is down.

“We have more people retiring and getting out from being a volunteer than we do coming in so it makes it hard,” said West Carthage Fire Chief Pete Crump.

In recent years, his fire department has seen a serious drop in members. That makes it harder to function independently

“We used to have 70 members and a waiting list. Now we’re down to 35 and calling in a lot more mutual aid because you gotta have the help,” said Crump.

Included in Governor Kathy Hochul’s latest state budget proposal are 3 options to compensate volunteer firefighters.

Scott Alexander with the Northpole Fire Company says it’s a step in the right direction.

“It’s much needed or else we’re going to see a collapse in volunteer services - both medical and fire,” he said.

The first option gives volunteer firefighters a 10% property tax break.

The second allows them to be compensated with 20% of the salary paid firefighters make.

And the third would grant them a series of $1,000 stipends from a state fund as they complete parts of their training.

“Any incentive that could be provided to firefighters to hopefully stay is helpful for us,” said Alexander.

Training stipends would be on the state, but direct payment and tax breaks would come out of municipality budgets.

The Northpole Fire Company falls under the town of Pamelia. Alexander says he’s confident his department will have the town’s full support.

“They know the struggles we go through to keep our members and they support us 100%,” he said.

We’re supposed to know if these options make it to the final budget by April 1. That’s when the governor and state legislature have to come to an agreeement.