Have you got the fire(fighter) in you?


They’re good people. They’re strong. And they’re heroes.

That’s how people in New York describe volunteer firefighters, according to a survey conducted by the Firefighters Association of the State of New York. And nearly half of all people who were asked said they would love to become one of these strong, good heroes.

And now they have their chance.

Volunteer fire departments — like the one in your hometown — are opening their doors the weekend of April 13 to not only remind our neighborhoods of how important those fire departments are, but also to help bring more firefighters to the fold.

It’s called RecruitNY weekend, and leading up to it, the firefighters association is asking businesses, government buildings and anyplace else where exteriors are lit to make those lights red to show solidarity with our firefighters.

“The lights symbolize our commitment to a tradition of community help, and a need for more volunteers,” Edward Tase Jr., president of the association, said.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman is doing his part, lighting the dome red on the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola in the first two weeks of April. The hope is that other major landmarks across the region and state will light up red as well.

Being a volunteer fire department has been getting tougher. Membership has dropped, while calls have increased. And not because people don’t want to be firefighters — it’s just hard to make that commitment in our busy lives, amid a turbulent economy that requires many of us to work more than we may have in the past to pay the bills.

But there are benefits beyond simply making a difference — and potentially saving lives — to being a volunteer firefighter. And those are benefits worth considering. For example, volunteer firefighters get free training and free equipment, as well as tax breaks and essential insurance coverage — all provided by the Volunteer Firefighter Benefits Law, first passed in 1957.

Some of those tax breaks include income tax credits of $500 to $1,000 per year, as well as property tax reductions of up to 10 percent, assuming your local government has opted in.

And, depending on what individual departments have set up, there could be pension opportunities as well, established through the state’s Length of Service Award Program.

For younger people, there are scholarships and tuition reimbursement available, too.

Of course, becoming a volunteer firefighter isn’t about the financial incentives, although they help. What really draws most people to serve is a chance to give back to the communities they love in ways they simply can’t do otherwise.

Volunteer firefighters play a crucial role in protecting their homes and neighbors from emergencies and disasters beyond simply putting out fires, although there is nothing simple about that. They are also there for medical emergencies and natural disasters like major storms, always contributing to public safety and well-being.

These days we see firefighters needed to respond to flooded basements, lithium-ion battery fires, downed power lines and car accidents.

Volunteers also get to fulfill a dream many of us have had since the moment we saw a firefighter for the first time. We knew that’s what we wanted to be, too. So why not do it?

Visit your local volunteer fire department next month. See what it’s like to be a firefighter, and how you can make a difference. And then ask where you can sign up.

President George W. Bush once said that “the willingness of America’s volunteer firefighters to risk their lives for others is a testament to the spirit of service that pervades our nation.”

Let’s continue prove him right. Find out how — and where — you can volunteer today. Visit FireInYou.org/volunteer.