At the Cassadaga Fire Department, pizza was served. In Forestville, firefighters grilled hot dogs to go with macaroni and potato salad for those who visited their fire department. Whatever the food or the activity, fire departments statewide participated in open houses this past weekend.
In Chautauqua County, 31 departments hosted open houses. Other departments in nearby Cattaraugus and Erie counties were also open to the public. There is a need for more volunteers, and the departments opened their doors to the public to try to recruit them.
Dan Imfeld, Chautauqua County Deputy Fire Coordinator, termed the event a "moderately good success." Four departments held recruitments last year; this year 31 did.
Reached on Monday, he said, "Departments are reporting one to four new members. Countywide, we got between 50 to 75 new members. Looked at as a whole, this is huge."
Current volunteers were eager to explain their roles. Ed Sisson, a member of the Cassadaga Fire Department, works in the Chautauqua County Fire Police.
"There is a spot for everyone in the fire department," he emphasized. He went on to explain that he has had back and heart problems, but he can work with the fire police.
OBSERVER Photo by Diane R. Chodan
Future firefighters gather on the fire truck at Cassadaga. Left to right: Abigail McChesney (held by mom Annette McChesney), Abbey DuBois, Alison Stewart, Izak Wojcinski, Mallory Mikula, Zeah Wojcinski, and Cora Wojcinski, (held by mom Jaclyn Wojcinski).
"We are the first ones on the scene," he said. "Sometimes we beat the fire trucks."
Sisson is looking forward to taking EVOC (Emergency Vehicle Operations Course). While his bad back disqualifies him from driving a fire truck, he can drive an ambulance. He figures if he has the training he will be available if needed.
In Stockton, Captain Dave Lessinger was optimistic about his department's open house.
"It's going pretty well," he said. "We've had about a dozen people who are interested come in."
In Westfield, the department was open on both Saturday and Sunday. Everett Reardon, in charge of the open house, wished more people had come out. On the bright side, he noted that there were two new members of the department and another whose application is pending but should be approved soon.
In Forestville, Kayla Kohler, who is an interior firefighter and also was chairwoman of the open house, was eager to talk about the benefits of being a firefighter and how important everyone, including social members, are.
Kohler, whose mom, dad, and brother are also department members, explained that before she joined the department she was a Venture member for four years. Venture is a program through the Boy Scouts which is open to young people ages 14 through 21 who want to work with fire departments. At 18 a Venture member can become a full member of the department.
Dawn Espersen, a Venture leader, explained how much the students learn and that the experience benefits them on both college and job applications. There are scholarships available for them if they go on to college. She stressed the students train just as hard as regular members, but on fire and accident scenes do have some limitations.
Espersen said, "They are a lot of help on the fire scene. ... There was one accident where they shoveled the snow so the firefighters could haul gear and get to the site."
Espersen said the students do not have to come from Forestville to join the group.
During Forestville's open house, demonstrations were conducted. The department showed how the department handles a fire scene when a hydrant is not available, something common in rural areas. A tanker truck backed up to a portable pond which was connected by hose to a truck. A regular fire hose was employed as well as a deck hose positioned on the fire truck.
Kohler noted that the deck hose had many different settings to meet the needs of the situation.
Although the formal recruitment is over, fire departments are eager to talk to potential volunteers. As has been repeated many times, there is a job for everyone.
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