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LISTEN ON DEMAND: THIS AMERICAN LIFE tribute to the 10 killed in the Tops Market shootings.

Communities push to recruit fire department volunteers

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Chris Caya/WBFO
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More than 50 billboards are up across Erie County encouraging people to join their local volunteer fire department.  It's part of a statewide recruitment drive in conjunction with "National Volunteer Week," which includes an open house at many departments this weekend. 

With one of the "Volunteer New York" billboards as a backdrop, County Executive Mark Poloncarz stood with a few dozen firefighters and other first responders along Grand Island Boulevard in the Town of Tonawanda Monday to highlight the need for new recruits.  Poloncarz says as the local population has declined, so has the number of volunteer firefighters.

"What hasn't dropped is the need in our community," Poloncarz said.

"There's areas that 10-15 years ago would not have needed the level of service that they need today, while there's older areas that have lost population that still need the service and, in some ways, are more at risk because of the age of the structures and the individuals that live there," he added.

Erie County Commissioner of Emergency Services Daniel Neaverth Jr. says there is something for everyone in the volunteer fire service, and not everyone has to go into a burning building.  He says companies also need office help and auxiliary support.

"Everyone has something to contribute," Neaverth said.

Deputy Fire Coordinator Tiger Schmittendorf says firefighting may not be everyone, but volunteering can be.  

"From accounting to auto mechanics, if you can bring knowledge, skills, abilities, experience, or just a want to serve your community, we're sure that you have something to offer," he said.

Residents can get more information and a firsthand look at the fire service this weekend when many departments across the County will be hosting open houses.  This year's goal is to recruit 600 new volunteers.