Clifton Park

Rexford Fire District opens doors, hopes new firefighters walk in

Open house entertains children, potentially recruits adults
Eli Verbank, 4, and his mother, Kaarn Florio, pet Halligan, the Rexford fire chief's Dalmatian.
Eli Verbank, 4, and his mother, Kaarn Florio, pet Halligan, the Rexford fire chief's Dalmatian.

The Rexford Fire District welcomed the community into its firehouse Saturday, sharing their mission with the public, entertaining children, and hoping a few people would like what they saw enough to join their ranks.

At 94 years old, the fire department — officially named the John McLane Hose Company, after the local man who donated use of a building to the new fire company when it formed — suffers the same shortage of firefighters as so many other volunteer departments in the modern era. It relies on neighboring departments to send men and machines to its emergencies, and does the same for them.

So the hope was that some of the visitors Saturday would think about being a firefighter. But primarily it was a celebration of the department and a show-and-tell of what it does. The relatively new firehouse and the brand-new pavilion behind it are among the few potential gathering spots in the fire district, and they are intended to serve as such, said Chief Glenn Kreig.

“We’ve tried to make this a community-based place,” he said.

A team of clog dancers stomped their way through a tune in the main bay of the firehouse Saturday, while children scooped up the requisite firefighter swag, including plastic helmets. An inflatable bounce house with a smiling Dalmatian fire dog on the roof drew particular interest from youngest visitors, as well.

Outside, where Kreig stood with a real-life Dalmatian — the family dog, Halligan — there were more displays. The district’s trucks were open for inspection; the Clifton Park fire prevention vehicle, a converted school bus, imparted fire safety lessons; and a Stratton Air National Guard Base fire truck made a guest appearance. The scheduled visit from a LifeNet medical helicopter was canceled due to low cloud cover and mist.

The Rexford Fire District and its fire department continue to evolve as they near their centennial.

Kreig said the department is awaiting delivery next year of a new truck, a Toyne engine tanker that will replace a 1984 model, and hopes to have another new piece of apparatus before its 100th anniversary. 

But the trucks are only as good as the firefighters that use them, and that’s where the need is greatest, he said.

“We’re very short on manpower,” he said. 

Not only is the total roster small, the portion that can respond to a call is usually even smaller. Among the firefighters are an accountant, a lawyer, two teachers, some state workers and some General Electric retirees.

“We’re from all walks of life,” said Kreig, who is a sports equipment salesman by day.

Even if they could all bolt away from their jobs to an afternoon emergency in Rexford, the drive might take 30 to 60 minutes.

The town of Clifton Park is organizing a recruiting drive for all town fire departments that will target a largely untapped demographic: women. 

Rexford has had female firefighters in the past, including a chief, but right now it has only one woman on the active roster. Many other departments are heavily male, too. The goal is to address the shortage of firefighters by increasing the pool of potential recruits.

“We’re trying to break the barrier,” Kreig said. “We feel like we’re missing the boat in some of our recruiting.”

The Rexford firehouse is host to a Clifton Park-Halfmoon EMS crew for 12 hours each day, to allow for speedier response to the western side of the sometimes-congested town.

Medical emergencies prompt many of the calls the Rexford firefighters respond to, as well. But the firefighters still need to be trained and prepared for those few calls that involve the stress and danger of a full-blown inferno. The  training schedule for this, with many evening sessions, is yet another potential obstacle to recruiting and retaining firefighters.

“The training is tough,” Kreig acknowledged.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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