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Saturday, March 25, 2023

Rexford fire chief talks of ‘grave need’ for volunteers

REXFORD – Posters of another kind are among the campaign signs dotting main streets in some sparsely populated communities during election season.

They note a “critical need” for volunteer firefighters.

Such signs are scattered about communities such as Rexford and Round Lake.

In the Rexford Fire District at the west end of Clifton Park, Fire Chief Aaron Cote said the department, which serves 850 homes within seven square miles, has just 20 volunteer firefighters.

Cote said adding another dozen volunteer firefighters to the roster for emergency medical service and fire calls would be “incredible.”

Cote said the department wants to introduce a new generation of volunteers to support people who have been around “a long time.”

But he said it has been a challenge “to understand the new era what it is about.”

Cote said he understands the initial hesitation to join the ranks of a volunteer department. Cote said he refused to join the department when he was asked to do so 21 years ago when he moved to Rexford.

At the time, Cote said he had a young daughter and a newborn on the way. In addition, he said he didn’t understand what a volunteer department was, growing up in the Bellevue neighborhood of Schenectady, where, “if you dial 911, there were 47,000 trucks that showed up to your house.”

Cote said he changed his mind and joined Rexford 12 years ago after learning more about the importance of volunteer firefighting.

He said he wished he had joined sooner.

“It’s a great family to join in and you meet a lot of new people,” Cote said. “You meet a lot of new neighbors. We all help each other. And we’re serving our community at the same time.”

It takes a significant amount of training to become an internal firefighter. New York State requires 148 hours of training, aand then there’s Rexford’s internal training going on, where he meets Tuesday nights on various training scenarios in the district or for mutual aid requests.

Cote said Rexford’s low staffing had not yet affected the department’s ability to respond to calls.

Rexford answers an average of about 150 calls a year. Most, about 60%, are for basic life-support-level medical calls, while the remainder are fire calls that include car accidents, carbon monoxide and smoke alarms, and structure fires. This year it has answered Three mutual aid structures fire.

The state of New York gives volunteer firefighters a $200 break on their taxes, while a fire district starts a retirement fund for the volunteer that is based on a point system, provided the volunteer shows up to 10% of the call and performs certain activities in the firehouse. Yes, Cote said.

This year the fund was increased from $700 a year to $1,200 a year, with the proceeds being put into the stock market. A volunteer can withdraw cash at the age of 60.

“It’s not a lot of money, but it is something,” he said.

On Contact Correspondent Brian Lee [email protected] or 518-419-9766.

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Categories: News, Saratoga County

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