REXFORD — Among the litany of campaign signs that dot main roads in some of the less-populated communities during election season are posters of another sort.
They call attention to the “critical need” for volunteer firefighters.
Such signs are scattered about communities like Rexford and Round Lake.
In the Rexford Fire District, located at the western end of Clifton Park, Fire Chief Aaron Cote said the department that serves 850 homes within seven square miles is down to just 20 volunteer firefighters.
Cote said adding another dozen volunteer firefighters to the roster for emergency medical service and fire calls would be “unbelievable.”
Cote said the department would like to usher in a new generation of volunteers to support those who have “been around for a long time.”
But he said it’s been a challenge “getting the new era to understand what it’s about.”
Cote said he understands the initial hesitation to join the ranks of a volunteer department. Cote said he declined to join the department when he was asked to do so 21 years ago when he moved to Rexford.
At that time, Cote said he had a young daughter and a newborn on the way. Also, he said he didn’t understand what a volunteer department was about, having grown up in Schenectady’s Bellevue neighborhood, where, “if you dial 911, there were 47,000 trucks that showed up to your house.”
Cote said he changed his mind and joined 12 years ago after learning more about the importance of volunteer firefighting in Rexford.
He said he wishes he had joined sooner.
“It’s a great family to join into and you meet a lot of new people,” Cote said. “You meet a lot of new neighbors. We all help each other out. And we’re serving our community at the same time.”
There’s a significant amount of training to become an interior firefighter. New York state requires 148 hours of training, and then Rexford has ongoing internal training, where it meets Tuesday nights on various training scenarios in the district or for mutual aid requests.
Cote said Rexford’s low staffing hasn’t yet impacted the department’s ability to respond to calls.
Rexford responds to an average of about 150 calls a year. The majority, about 60%, are for basic life-support-level medical calls while the balance are fire calls that consist of car accidents, carbon monoxide and smoke alarms, and structure fires. This year it has responded to three mutual aid structure fires.
New York state yields volunteer firefighters a $200 break on their taxes, while a fire district starts a retirement fund for the volunteer that is based on a point system, provided the volunteer shows up to 10% of calls and performs certain activities in the firehouse, Cote said.
This year the fund was increased from $700 a year to $1,200 a year, with the proceeds put into the stock market. A volunteer can cash out at age 60.
“It’s not a lot of money but it’s something,” he said.
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.