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Fire Departments Start Seeing Shortage Of Volunteers As Older Firefighters Step Down

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – The number of volunteer firefighters is dwindling nationwide, prompting concerns about public safety.

CBS2's Jennifer McLogan spoke with 20-year-old volunteer firefighter Matt Kennedy about why he answered the call.

"It's a big family. We're all together, we're all doing one common goal trying to help everybody out," he said.

All over New York State, fire departments are looking for ways to bottle that enthusiasm.

David Kaplan is Melville's volunteer chief, his brother is Syosset's chief and their father is a former chief.

"The next generation just isn't as interested as we are. I have a son that's 20. He's in college, he has no interest," he told McLogan.

Volunteers constitute 70 percent of the nation's 1.2 million firefighters.

As McLogan reported, urbanization and the aging of the rural population are taking their toll, as fewer young people are available to replace the firefighters who retire.

"It takes a lot of time out of your day," one young man said.

"In the middle of the night, I'm not sure. I do have to be up early for work," a young woman added.

"It's expensive to live on Long Island," another young man said.

Some younger volunteers contacted CBS2 with another complaint: Some rules are too strict. Nine of them were suspended over uniform requirements.

"As a result of a manpower shortage, which is compounded by the suspensions, on a recent call we weren't able to get any apparatus out to the scene of an auto accident," said Anthony Chiofalo, of the Fire District Watch Group.

Still, Suffolk County's fire and EMS commission says they take care of their own and nothing replaces the brother and sisterhood camaraderie.

"Probably the most dedicated people in the world. They give up their time," Commissioner Joseph Williams said. "I am urging anybody who feels they would fit into that role to go down and see your local fire department."

To help lure volunteers, some districts offer property tax abatements, income tax credits and college tuition assistance. A number of fire houses are also starting young explorer and junior programs.

Volunteers say the volume of 911 calls has increased dramatically with suburban sprawl and senior citizen housing complexes.

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