By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
Five volunteer fire companies in Montgomery County are participating in this weekend's "Fire In You" recruitment campaign in hopes of boosting their membership rosters.
The companies will open their doors so people can find out what it's like to be a volunteer firefighter. If they like what they hear, they can fill out applications.
It's part of a statewide effort sponsored by the state Firemen's Association to combat declining membership at volunteer companies. Its slogan begs the question, "Is there a fire in you?"
"It takes someone who wants to do something and not get anything monetary back," said Fort Johnson Chief Audie Miller. "The kind of things you do get back is when someone says, 'Thank you,' and, to me, that's pretty neat."
Miller, who's been a firefighter for 51 years, decided he wanted to be one when he was 8 years old. He was inspired by a photo published by Time magazine in its coverage of the Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago, Ill., in 1958. Nearly 100 students and several nuns died in the blaze. The story included a photo of a firefighter carrying the body of a victim.
"The look on that firefighter's face told me what I need to do in my life," Miller said.
Town of Mohawk Fire Chief Jim Lovisa said people who attend the open house at his department can expect to tour the fire station, try on a uniform if they'd like, check out the apparatus and fire trucks, and talk to current firemen and officers.
"We're always looking for new people. We can never have enough members," Lovisa said. "We're looking for anyone who wants to volunteer their time, and give back to their community and their people."
Lovisa added that children are welcome to participate in the tours.
There is no residential requirement to volunteer for a particular fire company.
The general process starts with an application, then an interview with a chief or standing membership committee. The membership will then vote to accept a new firefighter, who will test the waters for a six-month-to-year-long period.
The candidate has to pass a standard physical, and complete training provided by the department through a combination of regular drills and online course work.
In addition to the gratification of helping one's community, volunteer firefighters are offered other benefits. The state Firemen's Association has developed the Higher Education Learning Plan, which provides tuition reimbursement for courses at state-chartered community colleges.
According to its website, volunteer firefighters are eligible to have all tuition costs reimbursed, in exchange for maintaining your grades and fulfilling defined service requirements.
You must also be a "member in good standing" in one of New York's volunteer fire companies during both your school years and service pay back period.
The FASNY HELP program is made possible through a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant awarded by the US Department of Homeland Security.
For more information, visit www.fireinyou.org, or www.recruitny.org.