The week of April 15-21 is National Volunteer Week. Established in 1974, National Volunteer Week has continued to grow every year since, drawing increased support and recognition from officials and communities all across our country.
National Volunteer Week is about inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to seek out creative and innovative ways to engage in their local communities. Itís about demonstrating to the nation that by working together we have the perseverance to meet our challenges and accomplish our goals.
National Volunteer Week is not only a moment to celebrate our volunteers, but itís also a tremendous opportunity for all of us, during these challenging times in our nation, to teach children a valuable lesson about what true citizenship is all about.
For the purposes of this column, I would like to focus on one group of volunteers that make an incredible contribution to our local communities, particularly in rural, upstate New York. It is our volunteer firefighters and emergency medical service (EMS) workers.
I have said it over and over again Ė volunteer emergency service providers are the ďbackboneĒ of our rural communities and should feel great pride in the contributions they make in the lives of our families, friends and neighbors. They undergo countless hours of training and education to ensure their departments are prepared to help and protect the residents they serve.
We owe volunteer firefighters and EMS workers a great debt of gratitude for the sacrifice and hard work they provide to the residents of our rural communities. In New York State, for example, almost 85 percent of all firefighters participate on a volunteer basis. In addition, there are over 57,000 certified emergency medical service (EMS) providers in the state, a majority of whom are volunteers.
As we all know, rising property taxes in our region and state continue to challenge the budgets of families, seniors and small businesses. In addition to keeping our neighbors safe, do you know how much volunteer emergency providers save property taxpayers? Itís been estimated volunteer firefighters and emergency medical workers provide over $7 billion in services to local communities throughout New York State. Can you imagine the significant increase in property taxes if we did not have the help and dedication of so many volunteers?
Unfortunately, many fire departments face significant volunteer shortages and are in need of additional help. Volunteers are eligible for many state- and organization-sponsored training and benefit programs. However, despite the availability of these programs, volunteerism is down across the state. The Firemenís Association of the State of New York (FASNY) has responded to the volunteer shortage with their annual recruitment drive.
The statewide campaign, known as RecruitNY will occur on Saturday, April 21 and Sunday, April 22. Local fire departments will discuss the requirements to be a volunteer, conduct demonstrations, answer questions, and let visitors know how to get involved in the fire department. Interested individuals should contact their local fire department to determine if the department is hosting an open house, and if so, when their doors will be open to the public. For more information, you also can visit http://www.recruitny.org.
If you are a volunteer Ė thank you! Thank you for the sacrifice and dedication you and your family make to protect our local communities. If you are not a volunteer, please stop by your local fire department sometime to say thank you and, if you are able to do so, please consider joining your local fire department.
Please spread the word about the RecruitNY weekend coming up on April 21st and April 22nd. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.