Hochul to invest $10M in volunteer fire departments

ALBANY – During her state budget presentation on Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul will roll out a plan to invest $10 million to support the training, recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters.

Nine million New Yorkers live in communities served by volunteer fire departments. But the Covid-19 pandemic decreased participation in the programs, and municipalities have struggled to recruit and retain people to provide the critical services.

The new funding proposed by Hochul includes $6.5 million to provide stipends to volunteer firefighters who complete core training. The other $3.5 million would go to the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to administer the program and enhance training capacity.

In addition, Hochul’s budget also includes legislation that would allow municipalities and fire companies to pay volunteer firefighters compensation for response to calls and completion of training.

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“Volunteer first responders put their lives on the line to support their fellow New Yorkers, and we are forever indebted to them for their heroism,” Hochul said in a prepared statement. “Many communities across the state rely on services provided by volunteer firefighters but need further support to recruit and retain people willing to serve their neighbors. With this proposal we are recognizing that it takes time, commitment and dedication to be a volunteer firefighter, and that we must provide resources to support those crucial, life-saving efforts.”

Volunteer fire departments provide coverage to approximately 46% of the population, but 76% have reported a decrease in volunteer service in recent years, according to Hochul’s office.

Between 1997 and 2020, according to Hochul’s office, there was a 29% increase in fire incidents in the state. This combined with the volunteer shortage has led to an increase in “mutual aid calls” in which the local “home” department must call on a neighboring department to help. According to Hochul’s office, this has strained the resources of not only volunteer departments, but also professional, career fire departments.

Hochul is set to deliver her second budget address at noon Wednesday at the State Capitol in Albany. The deadline for Hochul and the Legislature to strike an agreement for an on-time budget is April 1.

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