The chiefs of the volunteer Albertson Fire Hook & Ladder, Engine & Hose Co. No. 1 were recently honored with the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) 2019 Recruitment and Retention Award at the Albertson Fire Station by Steve Klein, FASNY president and Jose DaRocha, FASNY board member and member of the Albertson Fire Company. This honor is a new award for FASNY.
The volunteer fire service has a long, proud heritage in New York State and is deeply integrated into the social fabric for the region. Volunteer fire departments not only answer emergency calls, but they often serve as key community organizations.
Across New York, member enrollment has been down in most firehouses, and with call volumes up for fire, safety and EMS there has been a crucial need for additional volunteers all around. Between the 1980s and 2011, the volunteer fire service dwindled to about 85,000 members. But during this time, the number and complexity of emergency calls continued to increase. For the past nine years, FASNY has hosted a recruitment campaign throughout the entire state during the month of April, however, it is important that individual firehouses host ongoing opportunities to increase membership as well.
Over the past two years, the Albertson Fire Company has seen a 30 percent increase in new member applications. The fire company has a unique family dynamic and camaraderie that helps with recruiting, but the dedication of the chiefs, including Bill Clark, Joel Melamed, Jay Janowitz and Tim Farrell has been reflected in the company’s successful retention rate.
To help bring in new members from the community, the fire company has several welcoming street signs including the one in front of the firehouse. Every Sunday, they have the doors open and invite families to engage with the members and visit the fire trucks and rescue vehicles. The Albertson Fire Company is actively engaged with residents at community meetings, house calls, parades and social outings.
Using social media, many of the younger members post about the work they do and social opportunities, which helps to contribute to the retention of the junior probationary membership. However, the fire company’s old-fashioned approach of recruitment including using local advertisements and a large electronic display in front of the firehouse still helps to bring people in.
To aid in building camaraderie, the Albertson Fire Company participates in a mentorship program, where chiefs engage closely with recruits for the first six months. Social outings like baseball games at local stadiums, hockey, paintball and trap shooting bring about 30 members to each event, which has assisted in maintaining morale. At monthly meetings, firefighters are recognized for exemplary behavior as well.
“The success of the Albertson Fire Company is one I would like to use for the entire state of New York,” said Klein. “Increasing membership by nearly 30 percent over the past two years and keeping the retention of new members greater than 80 percent is something we should all strive for.”