Consider role in fire dept.

Although the number of volunteer firefighters in New York state has been slowly increasing over the past few years, after dropping from 110,000 to 85,000 from 2000 to 2010, the effort to recruit new members to these vital volunteer departments is still important. There is a local need for more volunteers – as either firefighters or in supportive roles – at units such as the Berkshire Volunteer Fire Department.

One program that helps is the statewide RecruitNY, which promotes tours of firehouses, allowing visitors to learn about firefighting equipment, try on firefighting gear and find out about the different duties of fire department volunteers, as well as the requirements and incentives for joining. Several local volunteer fire departments participating in the RecruitNY program are having open houses Saturday.

People interested in joining a volunteer firefighting company should consider some of the benefits provided to members, such as the Higher Education Learning Plan program, known as HELP, which provides up to 100 percent college tuition reimbursement for volunteers who haven’t yet completed an associate degree or higher and maintain good grades while fulfilling service requirements in one of New York’s volunteer fire companies.

Another helpful incentive is New York state’s $200 income tax credit for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers. Any person in a household who fulfills the requirements of being a volunteer firefighter is eligible for the tax credit, provided he or she does not live in a municipality that offers a property tax exemption for being a volunteer firefighter. Property tax exemptions for volunteer firefighters are offered in some towns. They can be a good recruiting tool for new volunteers.

Proponents of RecruitNY say the program has helped increase the ranks of volunteer firefighters to more than 90,000 throughout the state. We applaud the effort. We must continue to promote participation in volunteer firefighter units.