Updated 07/05/2012 09:59 PM
Sea Breeze Volunteer Fire Department Gets Grant
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer announced that the Sea Breeze Volunteer Fire Department will receive a federal grant in a few weeks. The department hopes this $168,000 grant will strengthen its retention rate.
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For some, it's the adrenaline rush. For others, it's a way to give back to their community. But after receiving training that costs about five thousand dollars a person, many volunteer fire fighters only have an average retention rate of five years.
“We can't offer what other fire departments have been able to offer them, which is an incentive to stay around and help us out. Without that incentive, folks get burned out,” said Ray Walker, commissioner.
Volunteers take on the same risks while on the job, sacrificing their schedule and many nights sleep. Under this new program, Walker estimates that once they turn 62-years old, a 15-year volunteer could receive around $15,000.
“People have to have two or three jobs to survive now. It's hard to work, have a family, volunteer,” Walker said.
For volunteers like Carmelo Huentes, a property manager who works fifty hours a week and volunteers another ten, this compensation would be a great asset to his family.
“My two year old, twenty years from now… I could put that towards his college fund,” Huentes said.
Without those incentives, a steady paycheck and benefits lure many firefighters from volunteering and into other careers.
“We hope to keep that person for twenty or thirty years,” said Jim Turner.
Turner, chief of the St. Paul Fire Department implemented a retirement program for his volunteers and is already seeing results.
“We've seen since January an increase in attendance of volunteer firefighters to fire calls, emergency medical calls and those attending training sessions,” Turner said.
Turner says the criteria for the program is strict, but says the incentive is what gets volunteers up at three in the morning.
Both departments require volunteers to work a certain number of years and respond to ten percent of the annual fire calls. As the number of volunteers decrease, the burden falls on the salaried employees.
The Sea Breeze Department is currently looking to fill 20 volunteer positions.