Both the Elmont and Franklin Square fire departments are in dire need of new members, and held separate events on Sunday to encourage residents to join their ranks.
The day kicked off with the Elmont Fire Department’s Open House at its School Road training tower, where more than 20 high school students and their families gathered to watch the department in action. They huddled around various stations in the brisk weather with their cellphones in the air to catch every moment of the department’s simulated rescues, showing how the volunteer firefighters save a driver in an overturned car, put out a car fire and respond to a house inferno.
Nearly 80 students at Sewanhaka High School and more than 120 students at Elmont Memorial High School expressed their interest in joining the department in October, when firefighters visited the schools to speak to seniors about the work they do, and promote the Explorer Post 709 training program to students ages of 14 to 18.
The program, sponsored by the BSA, teaches young people who aren’t old enough to join the department about being a firefighter so they’re ready to start as soon as they turn 18. Then, members told those who were interested in joining to visit the open house and learn more about the fire department’s different companies.
And many did, including Elmont seniors Kamal Kaur, who said she was interested in joining the Emergency Medical Services unit, and Matthew Suvero, who said he once considered being a firefighter, but when they came to speak to the class, “It really hit me — I could really have the chance to save people.”
As it stands, the Elmont Fire Department is drastically understaffed, according to firefighter Richie Balsan, who heads its recruitment committee. The department should have 210 members, he explained, but currently has 150, with several of the companies having fewer than 20 members. The EMS unit fares the worst, with eight members of the 30 who are needed. And those who do volunteer, Balsan said, are “either really young or really old.”
But the department wasn’t always so small. In the 1970s and ’80s, many Elmont residents joined the fire department because their fathers and grandfathers had been involved, and “it was just kind of expected they would join,” Balsan recounted. Sue Lund said she decided to join the department in 1976 to follow in her father’s footsteps, but had to wait eight months for an opening.
Now, however, Balsan noted, people are working two jobs to make ends meet and don’t have time to volunteer, and many of the families who were heavily involved have since moved away, making recruitment necessary. Not only do members visit the schools, Balsan said, but also they use social media as much as possible.
“We try to target the youth,” Balsan explained, “because if we get them at 18, hopefully we get a good few years out of them.”
“We’re trying to start new traditions with new families,” he added.
To become involved with the Elmont Fire Department, visit its website at www.ElmontFD.com or follow the department on Facebook and Twitter.
As Elmont firefighters were showing teenagers how they rush into a burning building, members of the Franklin Square & Munson Fire Department met with local residents at its headquarters on Liberty Place in their attempt to recruit new members.
“We’re looking to get as many members to join as possible,” Chief John Salzman said.
Currently, about 100 members protect nearly 30,000 residents in a three-square-mile area, according to First Assistant Chief Dominick Labianca. “So I need to pretty much double that,” he said. “To say we’re desperate is an understatement. We really, really need help.”
All department members are volunteers. “We all live in the community,” Labianca said. “We all have jobs and families, and this is just something we do on top of all that.”
They have had trouble recruiting new members, however, due to the time commitment, according to Second Assistant Chief Joseph Gerrato, and as a result, Labianca said, many of those who do serve are older.
“The older members have done their time,” he said, “and so we need the younger people to take their place.”
That is why several high schoolers were helping out at the Meet and Greet, promoting the department’s Explorer Club.
Labianca’s son, Dominick Labianca Jr., said he recently joined the group because he grew up in the Franklin Square & Munson fire department, and loves it so far, and 17-year-old Brandon Siles said he has learned a great deal over the past three years that he has been involved in the club. He noted that the Explorer Club taught him how to be responsible and made him appreciate the work the firefighters do, adding that he would like to take the firefighter exam and saying, “This could help lead to another career path.”
Those who do join also receive several benefits. Not only are younger members eligible for tuition assistance at local colleges, but also they receive a property-tax break and their experiences in the fire department could lead to other career paths, such as ambulance driver. The training is free, and college students can get credit for it.
To join the FSMFD, call (516) 354-2110 or email email@example.com.