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Genesee County Emergency Management Services

Standardized procedures, recruitment push among key strategies to fix fire, emergency response issues: Yaeger

By Mike Pettinella
Tim Yaeger

The task force charged with finding ways to stabilize fire and emergency medical service in Genesee County has identified eight priority measures from a list of about 100 recommendations provided by an independent consulting firm.

County EMS Coordinator Tim Yaeger (photo at right) on Thursday said the task force is meeting regularly in an effort to implement these strategies, with a focus on developing standards that all local fire departments or companies can follow and finding efficient ways to recruit potential volunteer firefighters.

In July 2022, the Genesee County Comprehensive Fire & Emergency Medical Service Implementation Plan (Fire & EMS Plan) was finalized. Since that time, the task force received feedback on the recommendations from Municipal Resources, Inc. of Plymouth, N.H., and has decided to start with the low-hanging fruit – items that won’t take years to put into practice.

Yaeger said that two key recommendations fall into the fire operations category.

From the task force report:

-- The Genesee County Fire Advisory Board, working collaboratively with the Genesee County Emergency Services, should form a committee to begin the development of a comprehensive County-wide Standard Operations Procedures/Guidelines (SOP/SOG) manual utilizing existing SOPs/SOG’s as a starting point. They should also consider the development of County-wide operational manuals based on the Northern Virginia Regional Fire Services manuals. This could even be pursued as a regional endeavor with the other counties in the GLOW region.

-- The Genesee County Fire Advisory Board, working collaboratively with the Genesee County Emergency Services, should adopt a standardized SOP/SOG form.

“Right now, we operate, I would call it regionally,” Yaeger said. “There’s not many calls that the single fire department handles by themselves. Most incidents are now handled by two or more fire companies. So, it makes sense to be basically operating off the same sheet of music. That approach in other parts of the country has had very good success.”

Yaeger said having the same strategies and tactics for all fire departments is “really a safety component.”

“By doing this, we want to make sure that we're all providing a better level of service while maintaining the safety of the firefighters.”

Another of the eight recommendations deals with volunteer recruitment and retention. 

From the task force report:

-- The Genesee County Emergency Services Task Force and Genesee County Fire Service Advisory Board, assisted by the Genesee County Department of Emergency Services, should establish, and recommend the use of a uniform application and screening process for all new members of the fire and EMS services throughout Genesee County. Although these personnel are volunteers, they still enjoy all of the rights of full-time public safety personnel and possess the same high ethical and moral character.

The report states that all volunteers must have a valid driver’s license and submit to background and credit checks, and drug testing.

“The operations group is looking at ways to streamline the application process and the onboarding process of volunteers into the EMS system, or fire and EMS system, and is looking at better ways to market and advertise the need for volunteers,” Yaeger said.

Rounding out the priority recommendations:

-- The Genesee County EMS Council should be reactivated to meet monthly with representatives from local fire departments, Genesee County Sheriff's Department 911 Dispatch Center, Genesee County Emergency Services, Mercy EMS, and LeRoy Ambulance. This group would meet and discuss any documented concerns or thoughts from the previous month to help enhance services in the future. The EMS Council should not be considered as a forum just for the airing of any grievances but an open forum for communication and feedback to improve the quality of EMS service to Genesee County.

-- Working collaboratively, the Genesee County Fire Advisory Board and the Genesee County Emergency Services should develop a plan to deploy several daytime quick response units; fire apparatus staffed with an officer and three firefighters, positioned strategically around the County in fire stations that wish to host them.

-- Genesee County's fire and EMS providers should consider the implementation of a reward, recognition, or incentive program for members that attain a level of more than 25 percent response. An example would be to provide gift certificates for local restaurants, concerts, or other entertainment as a reward for attaining a high level of response.

-- Working collaboratively with their partners at Genesee County, the Genesee County Emergency Services Task Force and Genesee County Fire Advisory Board should explore the feasibility of standardizing many of the tools and equipment utilized by the County's fire departments to allow for cost savings generated by group purchasing arrangements.

-- The Genesee County Legislature should consider funding regional or county positions that would reduce the overall burden on local fire and EMS organizations and enhance operational capability and efficiency. Examples of those positions are training officer, fire operations officer, health and safety officer, fire prevention officer, recruitment and retention officer and human resources officer.

Yaeger said he is encouraged by Genesee County’s move to contract last fall with Le Roy Ambulance and Mercy EMS.

“It seems to have stabilized both organizations, and we consistently continue to monitor their performance because it's fragile,” he said. “The whole EMS system is extremely fragile –both statewide and nationwide. So, we're hoping that the subsidies that the county’s providing to both agencies will be sufficient enough to sustain that reliability, performance and staffing level that we're expecting from those two agencies.”

He also pointed to the significance of having “elected officials at the table with fire service officials,” something that Genesee County EMS is facilitating.

“It’s so important that the elected official understands what's going on in the fire service and the fire service understands where the elected officials are coming from,” he said. “So far, these meetings have been very, very successful.”

Yaeger said he plans to update the Genesee County Legislature on the task force’s work, possibly as soon as next month.

State law opens door for Batavia Town Board to offer stipend for volunteer firefighter training

By Mike Pettinella

The Batavia Town Board on Wednesday night signed on to a recently launched New York State training stipend program for volunteer firefighters.

In a unanimous vote, the board passed a resolution that calls for payment of up to $500 in local training stipends for certain firefighter training for Town of Batavia firefighters.

“It’s long overdue and we’re very supportive of volunteer fire service,” Batavia Town Supervisor Greg Post said. “We’re pleased to pass this resolution as quickly as we were able to.”

In March, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the start of the statewide program, stating that the goal is to strengthen and stabilize New York’s volunteer fire service. She said that $10 million has been allocated to help offset costs of required fire training courses.

Genesee County officials have been sounding the alarm over the past several years about the declining number of volunteer firefighters, calling for corrective measures that include compensation.

Tim Yaeger, county Emergency Management Services coordinator, acknowledged that Hochul is responding to “conversations with fire associations, coordinators, fire districts and the New York State Fire Chiefs over the diminishing number of volunteers in the state.”

“Those conversations led to this law going into effect last August 31st, where different amounts (of compensation) will be paid (depending on the specific courses taken),” he said. 

Per the law, the state’s Division’s Office of Fire Prevention and Control will administer the stipend to volunteer firefighters for completion of the following training courses completed on or after August 31, 2023.

The state’s program allots $750 for basic exterior firefighting operations course, $1,250 for self-contained breathing apparatus/interior firefighting operations course and $1,000 for fire officer I course.

Locally, the state’s General Municipal Law 200-aa authorizes fire companies to administer a local fire training stipend program of up to $500, subject to authorization by the governing board of city, town, village, or fire district (Authority Having Jurisdiction).

Yaeger said local governing authorities have the option – nothing is mandated – to give stipends to their volunteer firefighters.

“Some may not participate because of budgetary concerns or maybe they don’t have the money in their current budget and may have to wait until next year,” he noted.

He said local action is “basically kind of a thank you.”

“It’s a nice gesture to compensate those volunteers for their time away from their family – away from their obligations – for taking further training courses on behalf of their communities.”

Post said that although the Town Board’s action applies only to its fire department members in good standing, he said that “other municipalities will also have the means and authority to pass similar resolutions.”

“Volunteer fire associations have been pushing for this for a long, long time. They have been lobbying for some time of compensation for a while,” he said. “They spend more time training than they do responding. And it’s not a lot of money. It’s around $8 or $9 per hour when you work it out.”

A representative of the Town of Batavia Fire Department said fire officials "are going through the process" and would be able to provide specifics in the coming weeks.

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