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Editorial: The need for volunteers at local fire departments is critical

Pretty much every fire department across eastern Long Island and many farther to the west are in need of volunteers. The equivalent of ‘help wanted’ signs sit on curbs in front of many departments, including those in both Riverhead and Southold.

Hamlets across our region are home to very special departments. Many are made up of men and women who grew up in those hamlets. Stories abound of fire fighters and EMTs responding to emergencies and discovering it involves someone they went to high school with, a neighbor or perhaps even a relative.

These departments are, in so many critical ways, family structures: people who look out for each other as they look out for those who need their help. They are people who put others first, who are more than willing — even eager — to put themselves in danger to get someone out of danger.

As Cutchogue firefighter Bryan Zissel recently told us: “We need you and you need us.” That sums up the relationship between first responders and the communities they serve.

This makes April 23 across our region — and across New York State — an important date. The Firefighters Association of the State New York has organized open houses that day at firehouses across the state to encourage men and women to volunteer.

None of the firehouses are saying their staffing levels present a danger to the communities they serve. On the contrary, these departments continue to respond effectively even as they hang out the sign that more volunteers are needed.

Volunteering in our fire departments can come in three areas: fire fighters, emergency medical services such as ambulance drivers and technicians, and fire police who help control traffic and other needs at responses. Some volunteers work in several areas, such as firefighting as an EMTs.

The point is our departments need people to step up. Staffing numbers have to be healthy so that redundancy is built in and there are enough people to respond to a road accident in the middle of the day. 

The way these volunteer departments are set up, people with busy day jobs can still apply and, if accepted, serve. Critical training can be extended over a longer period to accommodate people with full-time day jobs. 

In other words, just because you have a day job — a dentist, a plumber, a school teacher — doesn’t mean you can’t be a volunteer at your local fire department. The leadership will go to great lengths to make sure you can get the training you need and respond when you can.

We encourage men and women who have a desire to serve others to visit their local fire departments. Say hello. Introduce yourself. Ask how you can help your community by being the kind of person who puts others’ interests ahead of your own.

April 23 is an important day across New York State.

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