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It’s Time To Treat Volunteer Firefighters Fairly

In January 2021 alone, Falconer’s firefighters responded to 29 mutual aid requests — 23 of them were responses in Jamestown. In 2020, Falconer firefighters responded to the city for mutual aid 176 times, the vast majority using its ambulance for an EMS call.

The mutual aid system as it is currently set up is allowing Jamestown to get away with using volunteer labor much more often than the Jamestown Fire Department responds outside the city, as it did recently to help volunteers with a fire on Keller Road in Lakewood.

That simply isn’t right.

It had been thought that the city’s renewed contract with Alstar Ambulance and a contract with Chautauqua County for fly car services would have decreased the burden on volunteer fire departments, but that does not appear to be the case based on Falconer’s response statistics.

To their credit, Falconer’s firefighters aren’t asking to be removed from the mutual aid agreements. They simply want other departments to be in the mix when responding to mutual aid calls in the city so Falconer’s volunteer crew isn’t shouldering the load to handle Jamestown’s excess calls.

That’s more than fair.

One has to wonder, though, if some of this situation isn’t of the city’s own doing. The city’s contract with its professional firefighters doesn’t allow for part-time firefighters or volunteers to be part of the Jamestown Fire Department. It is ironic, then, that the city receives help from volunteer fire departments to answer EMS calls.

Why is it acceptable for volunteers to respond inside the city as part of a mutual aid response but not as a piece of Jamestown’s firefighting force? Wouldn’t part-time firefighters or part-time EMTs paid at a lower rate be better, from a union perspective, than volunteers responding in the city? At the same time Jamestown firefighters have been critical of responding to EMS calls when ALSTAR’s ambulance service is not available, city firefighters benefit from volunteers from surrounding communities to fill the gap when the Jamestown Fire Department isn’t available.

Thank goodness for mutual aid. City residents should be appreciative the mutual aid system is in place to ensure that help is available at all times. Volunteer firefighters respond to calls in the city because they are good citizens — because unlike the city’s paid firefighting force, the volunteers aren’t being paid to wake up at 3 a.m. to come to your house when you need them.

That’s a shame, frankly, because volunteer firefighters have to fundraise in their spare time to purchase equipment. Much has been made of Jamestown being able to bill for ambulance services in the future once the billing system is up and running. There are also calls that Alstar responds to when they don’t have the ambulance properly manned, and Jamestown firefighters provide help on the scenen to actually man the ambulance or drive it. What would happen if volunteer fire departments could bill the city for EMS services rendered in Jamestown? Why shouldn’t Falconer and the other fire companies who provide EMS services on an as-needed basis not be reimbursed for its efforts inside the city at a rate commensurate with city firefighter pay?

Having to pay a tab might make the city rethink the restrictions it places on who can and can’t be a firefighter in Jamestown — or about ways to provide public safety protection at a price the city can better afford.

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