A new federal grant will pay for efforts to recruit new members and increase participation in the town’s two volunteer fire companies.
The $149,300 recruitment grant was among 13 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grants awarded in New York state by the Federal Emergency Management Administration and one of the largest grants awarded to a volunteer company.
“We’re excited to bring in federal money to help us prepare for [municipal] growth,” said Rich Guerin, a lieutenant and grant manager with the Malta Ridge Fire Co.
While Malta Ridge will administer the grant, Guerin said it will also benefit the Round Lake Fire Department.
The goal is to bring new people into volunteer firefighting and retain the people already involved. Both fire companies currently have 55 to 60 active members and are looking for more.
The grant is coming at the same time as town officials are preparing to hire a consultant to look at the town’s overall fire protection needs given decades of growth and the pending development of the Luther Forest Technology Campus.
Throughout the Capital Region and across the country, volunteer fire departments are looking for new ways to recruit members, especially people who can respond to calls during the day.
The federal SAFER grant program was established to 2005 to help pay for those efforts.
“There’s a lot of different things that can be done, but it takes time and finances. But it’s a worthwhile cause,” said Ed Tremblay, the Saratoga County fire coordinator.
Guerin said the grant includes money to reimburse active firefighters for some travel and training costs, but a big component will be publicly advertising the benefits of being a volunteer firefighter.
“We hope to be launching this June a public relations campaign that makes people aware we are a volunteer organization in the community and the benefits of being a member,” Guerin said.
There will be outreach efforts aimed at getting volunteers from among new town residents and also those who live in apartments. The town is seeing an increase in the number of apartments along with single-family residential development.
“There’s a sense of camaraderie and friendship and service to the community that comes with participation,” Guerin said.
Plans also include highlighting a “hometown hero” in weekly newspapers and holding “firefighter for a day” programs to let prospective volunteers try some firefighting activities.
Guerin said another message will be that volunteering helps keep taxes low, compared to having a paid fire department, and a well-staffed, well-trained volunteer department also keeps fire insurance premiums down.
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