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Thursday, 11 July 2013 15:46

‘Is There A Fire In You?’: A Look Into the Lives of Local Volunteer Fire Companies—Wilton

By Brian Cremo | News

WILTON — As local fire departments see a drop in volunteers, Wilton Fire Department Chief Scott Bracket has actually been fortunate to see two to three volunteers joining each month. They now have about 70 members.

The difficulty for him and the Wilton Fire Department is daytime man-power. Over the last decade, Wilton has made a collaborative effort with Gansevoort and South Glens Falls fire departments, who have also been hurting for daytime runs and mutual aid.

Wilton currently helps cover the Northway from Jones Road up to the Hudson River and has gone as far as Broadalbin to help. 

One thing Bracket has noticed is more people not being able to leave their jobs to volunteer as much. Although they can’t be fired for a fire run, employees can lose pay, during the time they are out to help the fire department. That shortage in daytime numbers has caused Wilton to have to wait longer than they would like to get a truck off the floor.

“Back then (in 1999) more people were able to leave work,” Bracket said. “This day in age for some reason they don’t allow it. It’s unfortunate. You start going to four or five calls during the week and they’re not going to pay you, that affects your home life, paying your bills and taking care of your families. I’d like to see employers be lenient with volunteers. I understand that they’re running a business but sometimes you have to be lenient because overall we’re here to help the public and help people in the community. I’d like to see, for municipalities, that you let your people go because the taxpayers are already paying you. So what’s the difference whether you’re here doing your job or you’re putting out a house fire at a taxpayer’s house.”

In the last eight or nine years there has also been an increased presence of women in the firehouse.

“A lot of women are home,” Bracket said. “If the kids are off at school, they’re available during the day. Some are very aggressive firefighters. They’re here all the time. They like to learn. They’re not afraid of throwing an air pack on their back and going into a burning building.”

Wilton is currently ahead in calls, with about 200 for the year. They usually get 300 to 350 annually. In May there were 46 emergency responses, the most this year so far.

A new sub-station added on Route 50 last year in May has also helped get more members and provide better response times for that end of town. The station has three trucks on location.

Wilton also offers an Explorers Post program, which is run through the Boy Scouts. The program gives kids the necessary tools to join at the age of 14.

“They have limitations as to where they can’t run certain tools and climb ladders and stuff like that, but they can drag hose and they can help,” Bracket said.

When they turn 16, teenagers are eligible for firefighter status, which allows them to take the state fire training schooling. All the necessary certifications and schooling can be obtained before turning 18 years old.

“Once they turn 18, we run them through a live burn down at the training center and they’re Class A qualified,” Bracket said. “They can wear an air pack and fight fires with the approval of all the chiefs.”

For people who may have a negative perception toward the fire department, Bracket has one message. 

“Come over and see what we’re all about.” 

To join, hopeful members need to fill out an application before an investigation committee will find out why he, or she, is interested. After that, starting on the first Monday of the month, membership will table the prospective individual for 30 days. During that time, there are arson background checks and an encouragement to have people come by Tuesday nights to see drill in-house training. Following the 30 days there is a six-month trial membership where Fire Fighter One, an 87-hour course, or Scene Support must be completed. Without Fire Fighter One, an individual will not get an air pack, or be allowed to go inside a burning building.

There are also strict rules enforced at the stations once someone is on board, including no alcohol allowed. 

“We have strict rules against it,” Bracket said. “If you want to go home and have a couple beers, then you stay home. You’re out of service for a minimum of eight hours. We’re very strict about that.”

Being with Wilton since 1999 and joining the fire service in 1987, Bracket still says it’s a job that always keeps him on his toes.

“It gives me satisfaction helping people,” Bracket said. “It’s fun and exciting. It’s not every day someone is going to go running into a burning building. Not every day can you cut somebody’s car apart. You never know what the next day is going to be. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something else comes up and totally amazes you.”

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