New York holds line on number of volunteer firefighters after long-term declines

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ALBANY, New York — More new firefighters are volunteering in New York state after years of declining membership, though companies are still seeking recruits to meet more calls.

Fire companies statewide attracted 12,665 new volunteers in 2011 and 2012 amid aggressive recruiting efforts, according to figures from the Fireman's Association of the State of New York. The group released the figures Monday as hundreds of fire companies around the state gear up for open houses this weekend — part of a coordinated campaign to attract more volunteers.

"The last couple of years we've had enough new recruits in to at least hold the line," FASNY President Robert McConville said. "Our next goal now is to raise the ranks of the membership."

The number of volunteer firefighters in New York state dropped from 110,000 in 1990 to 84,000 by 2010, mirroring national trends. Firefighters say a big reason is that time-strapped two-income couples are less able to meet the more rigorous demands of service.

Statewide volunteer numbers were up to 92,655 by the end of 2012, according to the latest figures available.

The long-term drop has left a smaller group of volunteers to deal with an increasing number of calls. Nationally, the number of calls to fire departments roughly doubled in two decades to 31.6 million in 2013.

Companies in New York, aided by a $4.2 million federal grant, are making a push to recruit more volunteers through the RecruitNY program. At the Shaker Road Fire Department near Albany, recruitment runs the gamut from the open house planned for Saturday to keeping its Facebook page active.

"We'll bring in like 13 guys one year; we'll bring in eight the next year," said Tim Nerney, head of recruiting for the suburban department. "The fact is, You'll retain about 50 percent of those people you get in."

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