Local fire departments seeing surge in volunteers

Posted at: 02/12/2013 5:56 PM
By: Christine VanTimmeren

The West Webster Fire Department has been overwhelmed with the support from our community since two firefighters were shot and killed on Christmas Eve morning. People have donated food, time and money. News10NBC has learned a large number of people are signing up to become volunteer firefighters. Many of them saying it's in honor of Mike Chiapperini, and Tomasz Kaczowka.

News10NBC wanted to know how many applications West Webster and other fire departments have received since Christmas Eve.

The numbers are staggering. Places like the West Webster Fire Department and the Laurelton Fire Department have seen application numbers in the last month that they typically see over the course of an entire year. which means more people in our community are willing to put their lives on the line for you.

Tom Cole, West Webster  said, “It's overwhelming the response we're getting from people wanting to do something.”

Never has a stack of paper meant more to Tom Cole and the rest of the West Webster Fire Department than it does now.

Cole said, “When they made the announcement and said we have 15 applications that came in. I said, 'wow, that's overwhelming. We only do that once a year.”

That stack of 15 volunteer firefighter applications is something no one in this department has seen before.

Cole said, “Oh yeah, absolutely. It's overwhelming to know that we've got this and unfortunately it took a tragedy.”

Over at the Laurelton Fire Department in Irondequoit. Walter Holahan is seeing a similar trend.

Walter Holahan, Laurelton Fire District Administrator, said, “For years, we had gone through a very lean period and not having any applications and not getting new members.”

But since Christmas Eve, Holahan has a stack too. In all of last year, West Webster had 12 volunteer applications. This last month alone, they've reached that. Laurelton typically has zero to three applications a year. Since Christmas Eve, they've had 9.

Holahan said, “It's going to benefit the department in the long run.”

News10NBC's Christine VanTimmeren said, “Do you think it's going to benefit the community too?”

Holahan said, “Oh yes, for example, the responses. The more volunteers we have. Now with these new members, we're going to be over 50. So by adding more volunteers, there will be more people to respond to emergencies.”

Back in West Webster, while that stack of applications is encouraging, there's one small problem. The department can financially handle 125 volunteers. And they're at that max already.

Cole said, “It costs a lot to put these people in here, 125 people. Just to outfit them and do all the training takes a lot of costs. We do tell them there could be a wait period of up to a year.”

But Cole says it's a good problem to have. Not every volunteer department is that lucky. Not every department has seen so much support after such a tragic event.

Holahan said, “I'm at the end of my career here at Laurelton and I know that there's going to be a good base of support and firefighters to take our places when we decide to hang them up.

Both West Webster and Laurelton are still looking over those applications. It's about a 2-3 month process and then the volunteers have to go through a lot of training even after that.
But again, the more volunteers any department has, the safer you are.

Not every volunteer fire department across the area is seeing the same number of applications. In fact, News10NBC talked with the fire coordinator in Walworth Tuesday, he says they are having a very difficult time finding volunteers and they need help. He says they will even take volunteers from outside the district.
West Webster and Laurelton believe their numbers are the way they are because the tragedy hit so close to home.