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Gillibrand calls for more fire department funding

The sign outside the Scriba Fire Station asks people to consider volunteering.
Jason Smith
The sign outside the Scriba Fire Station asks people to consider volunteering.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said she knows fire departments across the state are struggling. Over the past 30 years, the number of volunteer firefighters has dropped by about 35,000, while call volumes have nearly doubled.

"Firefighters have more operational responsibilities beyond fire protection,” Gillibrand said. “And the training hours necessary to address them have increased. To make matters worse, fire departments are facing increasing costs for everything from air supply packs to fire truck maintenance."

Gillibrand said FEMA has two grant programs to help, and the House has reauthorized those programs, but funding was cut by $72 million. Now, she’s writing a letter to Congressional appropriators to restore that funding and hopefully add more.

Gillibrand said one grant program helps local departments buy or update life-saving equipment. The other provides grants to help fire departments bring in new staff.

"They can use it for pay. They can use it for overtime. They can use it for any enhanced benefits that they want,” she said. “It's just to make the workforce thrive, so anything that helps that workforce meet their needs, the money can be used for."

Gillibrand said last year, more than 200 New York state fire departments applied for the grants and received nearly $50 million.

That’s just one effort to help fire departments deal with a recruitment crisis.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has allocated money in the state budget for a training stipend fund. Also, many local governments, including Onondaga County, are providing a property tax credit for volunteer firefighters.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.