State legislators have approved a measure to help hard-pressed volunteer ambulance and fire companies attract new members, local officials said.
The legislation offers emergency service providers the opportunity to purchase health insurance at group rates through their local municipalities. Group rates often provide significant savings to purchasers, said Duncan Davy, spokesman for state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, who sponsored the legislation.
“Without question it is less expensive,” Davy said. He said the measure, once law, would not require local action to take effect. “You just go to your municipality to purchase the insurance,” he said.
Local fire company leaders hailed the legislation.
Rotterdam Fire District 2 Assistant Fire Chief Ron Paul said the legislation appears to be directed toward helping to attract young people to volunteer.
“If they offer quality insurance packages, I can see it as another thing to give us something to attract people,” he said.
Young people, those in their teens to their late 20s, often cannot afford health insurance through their entry-level jobs or have health insurance through their parents, Paul said. “As everything rises, it might be become more of a recruitment tool,” he said.
Career Chief Dale Lingenfelter of Niskayuna Fire District 1 said the proposed legislation “would definitively spark some interest.” He said he knows a lot of young people “out there looking for ways to get health insurance. In general, the legislation would be an effective incentive.”
Niskayuna consists of 15 career firefighters, who are paid a salary by the town, and approximately 35 volunteers.
John Nuzback, Schenectady County fire coordinator, said he believes the legislation will help recruit volunteers.
“Anything is good to try,” he said.
The county has more than 800 volunteers divided into 24 fire companies and two ambulance corps, Rotterdam EMS and Duanesburg Volunteer Ambulance Corps. Last year, they answered more than 6,500 calls.
The legislation is one of several measures offered in recent years to promote volunteerism. The more common measures are retirement plans and tax breaks.
The Schenectady County Legislature in recent years offered discounted services to volunteers of town-based fire departments and ambulance corps.
Greg Petricca, chief of the Thomas Corners Fire Department in Glenville, said fire companies in the county have been lucky in the past couple of years with recruiting members. “Things have changed,” he said.
He said the various incentives may be playing a role in bringing in new recruits.
“That is their first question: ‘What are the incentives?’ ” Petricca said.
Nuzback said fire companies in other counties are contacting their Schenectady counterparts to learn their secrets of success.
Paul said his volunteer fire department has had success.
“This year, we received five or six new recruits, so it has been very good, but you lose your older people. We are not where we would like to be but are not really suffering,” he said.
The department has 45 members.
Lingenfelter said, “We are always recruiting. We have been very lucky in the last couple of years. We have had seven new members last year, and we are looking at five or six this year.”
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Categories: Schenectady County