More Training Needed for Firefighters in Erie County

CHEEKTOWAGA, NY - Erie County fire officials were paying close attention to Governor Cuomo's budget address earlier this week -- and they wanted to hear one thing that wasn't included -- more money to train firefighters.

When fire crews respond to emergencies, you expect them to be trained for the job.

But, not all of the current 6,000 firefighters in Erie County are getting enough recommended state training, this includes veterans in need of advance training and new members in need of basic training.

"It is a safety issue. We want to make sure that the people that are responding to calls are working on the calls and that they have the proper training, so that when something happens they know how to react to it," said John Wicka, a fire commissioner for Lake View Fire District.

In a way, this is a good problem to have.

The county has so many firefighters looking to join departments -- including 1,300 in the past two years from a recruitment campaign -- but the state is not offering enough training hours to get firefighters ready.

County fire officials say some new recruits have been turned away in cases, because they aren't trained.

"If we are unable to meet the training challenges of our firefighters that's counter-productive to all of our tremendous recruitment to retention efforts," said Tiger Schmittendorf of Erie County Emergency Services.

Fire officials say that Erie County usually gets between 2,500 and 3,000 training hours for firefighters each year, but county fire officials say they need double that.

This all comes as the state approaches a new budget year.

"We're not getting any indication that we're going to see a significant enough increase in those hours that it'll make an enormous impact on our training situation," Schmittendorf said.

The state Office of Fire Prevention and Control is responsible for allocating firefighter training hours statewide and paying for state trainers to do so.

According to a statement from OFPC, "Erie County has chosen to augment the training provided by OFPC by funding and conducting courses that are supported financially by the county and the area fire departments."

But, this can drain local budgets that are already tight.

"Our goal is to get increased number of training hours from the state in order for us to maintain the number of training our current firefighters have," said Wicka.

To get more training for county firefighters and if this is important to you, fire officials say contact your local state lawmaker and tell them training should be boosted through the budget process because the fire departments of Erie County have already tried repeatedly.


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