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Oakfield Fire hopes to tap into community's generous spirit, draw in more volunteers

By Howard B. Owens


There's always a job to do in the Oakfield Volunteer Fire Department -- or any volunteer fire department in the county -- and if you can do a job, there is a job for you to do.

You should volunteer.

Not every job involves rushing into burning buildings or pulling injured passengers from mangled cars. Some jobs involve keeping track of people and materials or just cleaning up the fire hall.  All the jobs help the department fulfill its mission of keeping Oakfield safe.

That was the message Department President Joshua Finn and Chief Sean Downing conveyed when they invited a couple of local reporters to the Fire Hall on Monday.

They also wanted to show off the department's new rec room, which is also integral to Oakfield's effort to recruit more members.

"Some of the things that we want to do is get video game systems up there and have it way more comfortable so that we can get younger kids to have a spot, a place to hang out," Finn said. "Why not hang out here and play video games? If they're at least 16 they're able to go on calls, or those that might be, say, 14 are not able to go, but they may be up here with their friend. Now their friend goes out on the call, they hang back. You know, we hope they think and say hey look, that's pretty cool. Their friend is gonna come back and kind of say, 'Hey, I was at this car accident. It was cool. I got to help save a life,' that sort of thing, because if that does happen, we're hoping that it translates into the kids that are upstairs wanting to join."

Besides the kids, Finn believes Oakfield is a community with a generous spirit.  He suggests there are more people in the community who could and would volunteer if they just understood the need and the opportunity.

"I look at our community especially, and we have a lot of great people," Finn said. "The Oakfield Betterment Committee. That organization is fantastic, the things they do. I look at Suzy Zeliff who's running The Goose here in town, and what she has produced is unbelievable. We have a lot of great community members, and there's so much that we (the department) can offer people. Like Sean said, we have maybe 20 members that legitimately will respond to a lot of the calls out of a population of 5,000 residents. That's half of 1 percent."

An example of somebody from the community stepping forward to fill a need that wasn't being met was Ed Spence, a retired City of Batavia firefighter, who offered to become the department's chaplain.  He's helped a lot, being somebody for members to talk with after difficult scenes and performing religious functions within the department, Finn said. 

Downing noted Oakfield is not unique among local volunteer departments and maybe a little bit better off on staffing than some others, but that doesn't mean the need for more people in all parts of the organization isn't real.

"Everybody is struggling to get people during the day," Downing said. "You might get two people. Other times you get an EMS call for a stubbed toe or something and we get 13 people showing up. So, I mean, it's like it's feast or famine. So what we're trying to do is entice new members to come into the department."

Both Downing and Finn acknowledge that the training requirements for a firefighter or EMT can be pretty daunting, which is why they're suggesting people look for other ways they can help the department (though they also need people to join willing to go through that department).  They're also working with the county to find ways to streamline the training for people who might be willing to respond to a fire scene to help but not actually get involved in fighting the fire.  They can drive trucks, run pumps, help with hoses, and get nowhere near the fire.  But there are still risks involved in being on a fire scene, so some training is essential. 

Volunteers can also help with social media, fundraisers, and with serving on the fire board.  Finn mentioned one local businessman who has a family member in the department that he's hoping will take an interest in becoming a board member. His business experience could be invaluable, Finn summarizes, and with the financial strains in the department, more business experience on the board could be helpful.

"As years go on, one of the things that I've brought up is this building isn't getting any younger," Finn said. "We don't have a plan right now. That's one of the things that we've been talking about."

Clearly, Downing and Finn hope people will read this article and decide to at least explore the idea of helping out the Oakfield Volunteer Fire Department, or the department of the town where they live, and Downing encourages readers to visit

"Come check us out," Finn said. "Come check us out on a Monday night. We're here. If you live in Genesee, on a Monday night, every county department in Genesee County has either a meeting or a training night. Check out your department. Everybody in the community knows somebody who's a member, ask them what they need. Find somebody that you know on Facebook.

"Especially in a small town like Oakfield, everybody knows somebody. You know, there are so many different things that we need help doing," he said. "Come check us out. And you know, there are so many things that go on in the volunteer fire service that people don't realize. Come check us out."

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Top Photo: Oakfield members and family members hang out in the department's new rec room on the second floor of the Fire Hall.

Photos by Howard Owens.


Chief Sean Downing, Jamie Lindsley, president of the Oakfield Betterment Committee, Joel D'Alba, owner of Albion Pools, Tonisha and Andrew Pilc, Mike Harding, Attica Furniture, and Joshua Finn, president of the department's board of directors.

The rec room cost in excess of $12,000 was paid for almost entirely by donations and volunteer labor.  The Oakfield Betterment Committee was able to use its non-profit status to be a recipient of donations, such as $5,800 from The Home Depot.  D'Alba, an Oakfield resident, and somebody who would volunteer if training requirements could be modified so he could drive a truck and run a pump, made a cash donation.  Tonisha and Andrew supplied both volunteer labor and the effort and inspiration to get the project off the ground from consulting with local developers to lining up donations.  Harding made a cash donation and also donated the eagle and flag painting to hang in the rec room.


Photos of what the second-floor room looked like before the remodel.

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