GLENVILLE — Glenville Hill Fire District No. 8 will receive more than $190,000 in federal funding to bolster recruitment efforts amid ongoing struggles to attract and retain volunteers.
The department plans to use the $190,580 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant to attract nine new members over the next three years, in hopes of filling “critical” shortages that have persisted for the last five years, according to Arman Canestraro, the department’s commissioner.
“I’m just ecstatic over the idea that we got this,” Canestraro said recently, noting the department has applied for the grant on three previous occasions.
The department is currently has 20 members, including 15 who are active, according to Canestraro, who said that the lack of membership has resulted in increased response times and a greater reliance on mutual aid, particularly during the day, when a bulk of the department’s membership is at work.
Canestraro said the department is planning an extensive advertising campaign, including at-home mailers, billboards along I-890 and routes 50 and 5 and the installation of a new LED messaging board on the firehouse. The goal is to tap into a group of potential volunteers the department identified by examining recent census data, including veterans, women and retirees.
If the department’s recruiting efforts are successful, Canestraro said the department will be adequately staffed to provide first response in the event of an emergency.
“We’re hopeful to make the first response every time at the end of this three-year period,” he said.
The department also has plans to create a cadet program with the funding and establish a point-based incentive program that will award active members with things like amusement park passes and leadership retreats, in hopes of retaining members.
The funding, which U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, helped secure, comes as volunteer fire departments throughout New York, including those in the Capital Region, face dwindling memberships brought on by recruitment struggles and active members taking a step back.
In that last 20 years, the state has seen the number of volunteer firefighters drop by 20,000, while the call volume has ballooned to more than 1.4 million annually across the state, double the 750,000 received 30 years ago, according to a report released last year by the state’s Volunteer Firefighter Recruitment & Retentions Task Force.
The task force was created in 2020 as a way to develop ways to address declining volunteer memberships, which Canestraro attributed to burnout by members that are required to complete hundreds of hours of training annually.
“Last year alone, our people responded to seven structure fires,” he said. “Not having the necessary crew to go out, and waiting on support to nearby districts, we’re adding 20, 30 minutes to a response time.”
The state in recent years has taken steps to provide resources aimed at attracting and retaining volunteer firefighters, including extending a 10% property tax break last year to volunteers with at least two years of service.
Several municipalities, including Schenectady County and Rotterdam, have already adopted the measure.
Pending state legislation would also provide $10 million to cover the cost of training for volunteers and extend an income tax break for volunteers from $200 annually to $1,000.
Canestraro said he supports the measures, adding that his department would likely support any possible solution to the declining membership.
“These are people that, in the middle of the night, when you make a 911 call, they’re there to help you,” he said.
Glenville Hills Fire District No. 8 is the latest department in recent years to receive a SAFER grant. Departments in Troy and Saratoga Springs have also received the funds.
“I’m proud to deliver this funding that will ensure that Glenville Fire District No. 8 is able to attract and retain the personnel they need to keep protecting our families and our communities, and I’ll always keep working to make certain our first responders have the resources and manpower they need to thrive,” Tonko said in a statement.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.