New generation of volunteer firefighters - BlueStone Press
December 9, 2022

New generation of volunteer firefighters

Accord Fire District celebrates seven members as they graduate high school

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In an age where recruitment levels for local volunteer fire companies is at near crisis lows, the Accord Fire District has a lot to crow about. This June, the company has the privilege of celebrating seven of their members as they graduate high school.

Volunteers are the literal backbone to the local community. The Accord Fire District consists of three fire companies in the Town of Rochester: Accord Fire Company #1 (on Main Street), Accord Fire Company #2 (on Samsonville Road) and Accord Fire Company #3 (in Alligerville, which is currently closed because it is under renovation). The Fire Company is overseen by five elected fire commissioners on the Board of Fire Commissioners. They are charged with overseeing all three of the companies and ensuring that volunteer firefighters are trained and that all state regulations are met. Peter Nelson, captain and president of Fire Company #1, says that including mutual aid agreements the Accord Fire Company covers a territory of about 90 square miles.

Nelson, who got involved 18 years ago, says that recruitment is a major issue, which is partly what makes these graduations particularly special. “Getting people to volunteer is a big thing,” says Nelson. “It’s a big time commitment, a big thing to ask of people. It is pretty amazing and inspiring to us that in Accord Fire we have seven members graduating high school. I can’t recall having that many before in the time I have been involved in the fire service.” He continues, “These kids – they are awesome. I am in awe of their commitment. I don’t think I would have volunteered at 17. Some of these kids have multiple jobs and up until now they have all still been in high school … it’s really moving to me that these kids are so committed at this age.”

Turning to our young heroes for insight as to why they chose to join, there is a common theme; friends and family. Alex Jente says, “I live real close the firehouse. One of my friends was a part of it for six months before I joined, once I was allowed to, at 16.”

Riley Novi became interested during the pandemic. “I got involved in 2020,” says Novi. “I had a friend who was a year older than me, and I went to a call with them, and as I was sitting in the car and watching them I thought it was a cool thing and really good thing for the community.”

Landan Frey says that helping runs in the family. “I kind of grew up in a family who liked to help,” says Frey. “My dad is a state trooper, and so it was a given that I would join something to help the community. And I’m the nosey type. When I pass an accident I want to know what happened, and I had friends who had already joined to help me through the process. Now I’ve been on calls with dad and I can’t believe how cool it is to be on the same calls as him. To know that your dad is a lot older than you and is on the same call is pretty cool.”

Danny Birch says, “My dad, Harry Birch, has been in it since however long I can remember,” says Birch. “I grew up spending a lot of time at the firehouse. When I was little it was all about the big trucks, and now I’m actually doing it, and it’s really surreal.”

AJ Alaimo, who joined the Accord crew last May, says, “I’ve always liked helping people and I found a chance to do it. So I decided to try it out and what I found was that I would gain a whole new family in addition to my original family.”

Korey Roeber echoes Alaimo’s sentiments; “I had a couple friends in it, and I wanted to help my community. When I joined, I really felt like I was joining a family.”

Volunteering is no small undertaking and involves many levels of training. Says Nelson, “We are very lucky to have experienced chiefs, officers and senior members who work hard to train, motivate and encourage these young firefighters and create an environment that promotes safety, team building and preparedness. We train for a wide spectrum of emergencies from structure fires, wild land fires, car accidents and extraction, search and rescue, hazmat, ice rescue, etc.”

Training happens both weekly in house as well as in conjunction with the state and county. In addition to the time commitment of trainings, there are also the calls themselves, which can happen at any time, day or night. Nelson says that there is a job for everyone, whether you are 16 or 60 and beyond. And while the time commitment is big, Nelson is quick to point out, that when it comes to their young firefighters, school always comes first. Roeber says that in his experience he didn’t have that much trouble balancing the two. “I got lucky. We didn’t get a lot of calls while I was in school, and the meetings were at night, so there wasn’t a lot of conflict.” He continues, “Being a volunteer you don’t need to make every single call so there wasn’t a huge issue balancing the two … it kind of worked perfectly.”

All seven graduating seniors agree that despite the challenges, there is much benefit to joining. Frey says, “I gained a lot of responsibility. And I learned to really hear the other person’s story before you judge them. Showing up, you don’t know what the back story is so you’ve got to really hear people out.” Frey also has the honor of being the recipient of the Eddie Miller Memorial Scholarship Fund, which was formed in the memory of Accord Fire District Chief Eddie Miller. Nelson explains that the Accord Fire Company is not in charge of who the award goes to and they were all surprised and thrilled that this year it was given to one of their very own. Frey, too, was happily surprised. “It feels so meaningful and I want to thank the family for giving me the opportunity. The chief actually handed me the scholarship, and until he opened the envelope he didn’t know who got it. It was a really cool moment for both of us when he got up there, opened the envelope and called my name out.”

Novi says that the list is so long as to what he’s gained that he wouldn’t even know where to start. Roeber agrees, saying, “I’ve learned about so many ways to help our community, and that feels pretty great.”

And they have advice and encouragement for other young people who might consider joining: “If you are thinking about joining, try it out, it’s an experience. I love it,” says Birch. Novi agrees: “If you feel that you can physically and mentally do it, do it! It’s a huge thing that will help you with a lot of things in your future and be a lot of fun in general.” Jente points to community – both the community they serve and the community they create. “It’s a good way to serve the community, and you can have a lot of friends, if you keep the right company,” he says. “You get training and exercise and you learn a lot. We have a lot fun.” Roeber encourages others to join for the sake of community and opportunity. “It’s such a good opportunity, there’s a lot that can come from it, and it’s a great thing to help the community,” he says.

Frey points out that volunteering can help you build a future as well, “It’s the right thing to do and there are some huge benefits you can get from it. Your name gets out there, a lot of people look up to as a first responder. And it looks good on a college resume.” Alaimo sums it up nicely: “It’s worth it.”

Nelson encourages anyone who is interested to stop by a firehouse. “Visit us anytime. We are here and have the doors open or reach out to us to see what we do in our community.”, says Nelson.

Accord Fire Company Accord Fire Department Youth volunteer firefighters Accord NY Rondout Valley High School RVHS

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