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CNY Needs More Firefighters: How an NY State Program is Working on the Issue

Declining Numbers

By Annie Shim SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC NEWS) — The state of New York, including Central New York, is in critical need of more volunteer firefighters. A decade ago, there were over 110 000 volunteers in the state, now there are about 85 000.

Different from the past

Many say that the numbers have gone down because people have gotten busier.

“Both the mom and dad are working, and there are more activities that the kids go to. They just don’t have the time to put in the hours,” says Doug Whittaker, the department chair of Homeland Security including the Fire Department at Onondaga Community College.

Finding a solution

That’s where a state-sponsored program comes in. The Fireman’s Association of the State of New York, known as FASNY, has several recruiting and retaining programs, including a free tuition program aimed at students.

The Higher Education Learning Plan, referred to as FASNY HELP, offers up to full tuition reimbursement and room and board at a firehouse for NY community college students who volunteer as firefighters. Recipients have to volunteer at least 40 hours a week and maintain their grades.

Brains and brawn

In fact, the higher their grades, the more tuition reimbursement they get, and straight A’s gets volunteers one hundred percent of their tuition payed.

“It’s great. I’m paying my own way through school, so I need all the help I can get,” says Aaron Sokol, an OCC Fire Protection sophomore and volunteer firefighter at the Dewitt Fire Department and FASNY HELP recipient.

A full schedule

Leading a double life as a full-time student and a volunteer firefighter can be quite busy. Many of them, including Aaron, cram all of their classes into a few days, and spend the rest of the week on duty.

As hectic as the lifestyle is, it can be just as rewarding. Aaron is close with his classmates, his roommate, and knows this experience is leading him to become a career firefighter.

Available opportunity

The program began in 2011 and is now in its sixth semester. The deadline to apply has been extended to Friday, February 21 and students in any New York community college in any program are eligible.