AMHERST, N.Y. — When there's a fire, or car accident or EMS or first aid call in your neighborhood, there's a good chance it's a team of volunteer firefighters who are coming to the rescue.
Many are surprised to know the only fire departments in Erie County with paid firefighters are Buffalo and Lackawanna. Across Western New York, departments with paid firefighters include Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, Dunkirk and Jamestown. Nearly all other municipalities have well-trained volunteers who serve as firefighters.
"I joined the North Bailey Fire Company to serve my community," said Don Geib, who has been an active volunteer in the North Bailey Fire Company in Amherst for more than 51 years.
Since he was a teenager, he served his community, put his life on line, and never expect a paycheck.
"I think it's a great honor to hit 50 years and hopefully keep going on," said Geib, a past chief of the department.
Also hitting the half century mark in North Bailey is Terry Sykes.
"There are five generations from our family that's in the fire company," said Sykes. "And I always drove past the hall as a kid and knew I had to be part of it."
Sykes and Geib were recognized for their five decades of service at North Bailey's installation dinner over the weekend, in which 2 On Your Side Daybreak anchor Melissa Holmes, whose father is also a member of North Bailey, served as MC. Geib and Sykes reminisced about the changes they've seen in the fire service in that time.
"I remember riding on the back of a firetruck when I was 17-18. You can't do that now," said Sykes.
Geib noted that newer firefighters are fortunate to be equipped with the latest technology for fighting fires and performing first aid.
"We didn't have all the toys back then. We had to make our saws to cut through windows for extrication and all that," said Geib.
Besides the toys, equipment and technology, what's also changed over the years, is the amount of training that's required to be a volunteer firefighter, especially for new recruits.
"You've got 100 hours of training for firematics another 100 hours EMS training so they're going to be away from their house two to three nights a week for the first year, year and a half," said North Bailey Chief Jeff Cutler.
Balancing all of that with family obligations and a day job makes it hard to recruit volunteers in general, and during the pandemic it was even tougher.
"The recruitment just stopped. We didn't even try to recruit anyone because no one was here to process applications and train them because of social distancing," said Chief Cutler.
With fewer firefighters and an increasing number of calls, Recruit NY weekend led by the Firefighter's Association of the State of New York is vitally important to find brave people willing to give it a shot.
Those people like Geib and Sykes, and their brother and sister firefighters, are the definition of "Good Neighbors."
"We're here. The call comes out and we're going to be going to that call to help someone in a situation they probably don't want to be in," said Cutler.
Besides the pride in knowing they're helping their neighbors, Geib, Sykes and Cutler say the family atmosphere and comradery among the firefighters is the best part of the job.
To find out more about being a volunteer firefighter in New York State, visit the FASNY website here.
To nominate a person or group to be featured as a "Good Neighbor" on Channel 2 News, email Melissa.Holmes@wgrz.com.
To see past "Good Neighbors" who have been featured, click the links below.