Local volunteer fire departments continue their long-time struggle to build their membership numbers. Expanded training hours, parental duties and the economy are often blamed for bogging down recruitment efforts.
Many fire companies have added incentives to attract able-bodied men and women to their ranks. For example, tax exemptions and lowering of participation percentages, to cite a couple, have been used to increase numbers. But the challenges continue.
But thanks to an incentive program introduced by the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York in 2011, local fire chiefs have another tool to increase their membership numbers.
And it’s something North Country men and women considering joining the volunteer ranks might find tremendously useful in their personal lives while helping their respective communities.
FASNY was founded in 1872 and represents the interests of the more than 92,000 volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel across the state.
According to a FASNY news release, the education initiative is a statewide community college tuition-reimbursement program geared specifically for recruiting and retention of volunteer firefighters. It’s a free program. That’s right, free.
Under FASNY HELP, an individual who hasn’t already achieved a college degree or taken 80 or more college credits can have up to 100 percent of his/her tuition reimbursed in exchange for maintaining good grades and fulfilling service requirements in one of the state’s volunteer fire companies.
There’s no restriction on the type of academic courses a student/volunteer firefighter can pursue, either on a full- or part-time basis. And a new option this year: The program has been expanded to cover online courses taken through Empire State College.
Funds can be utilized for tuition costs incurred in the fall and spring semesters. Eligible student/volunteers must maintain acceptable volunteer activity and training levels while attending school and fulfill a service requirement after they complete their course of study. They must attend the closest community college or one within a 50-mile radius of their residence.
The deadline is soon approaching for firefighters to apply for the fall 2013 semester — Oct. 1. Remember, the program is free.
More than 100 students in New York state, attending over 20 community colleges, have already applied to participate in the program for the fall semester.
It’s a pretty neat initiative to both improve your life skills, get a college degree and help out your community, all at the same time.