By Jann Wiswall

The Ellicottville Fire Department is hosting an open house on Saturday, April 26, 1-4 p.m., at the Fire Hall at 30 Fillmore Drive.

This is an opportunity for everyone — men, women and children — to learn more about volunteering as a firefighter or emergency medical technician (EMT), pick up some fire prevention and safety tips, enjoy some hot dogs, hamburgers and other refreshments, take a ride on a fire truck and get to know the dedicated individuals who already serve the community as volunteers.

While the event will be fun and entertaining, its goal is more serious: Ellicottville needs more volunteers to keep the community safe.

“Many years ago, the EFD had 70 volunteers and a waiting list,” said volunteer fire chief Kevin Morton. “Now we’re down to 40-50.”

There are many demographic and economic reasons for the drop in membership — an aging population and an exodus of younger people, to name a few. But the need has increased as the four-season vacation community in the area grows.

“During the winter,” Morton said, “we average 7-10 fire calls and 30-40 ambulance calls each week. We’re often going from one call to the next without a break in between.”

Because Great Valley and Ellicottville have a joint ambulance agreement, “we’re able to keep up,” but, he said, more people are needed to ensure there is enough backup.

Over the past year, the department has recruited five new volunteers. Two of them, Rick and Glenda Jackson — owners of the Ilex Inn B&B — joined during last year’s open house after learning of the volunteer shortage.

The Jacksons, who both worked for the Palm Beach County, Fla., police department and worked hand-in-hand with the fire department there before moving to Ellicottville, have a good preparatory background for fire department work, but that kind of experience is not required.

“The most important qualification is the ability to make the commitment,” says Rick.

Volunteers do all sorts of work — from directing traffic, driving trucks and handling hoses to extracting people from damaged vehicles, fighting exterior fires and, eventually, interior fires. No one does anything without the necessary training, of course, and new volunteers are given plenty of time to complete training requirements at fire school.

Glenda notes that the EFD’s training and support is “wonderful. Being a part of it is like being in a big family.”

If you have the time and can make the commitment to give back to the community by volunteering as a firefighter or EMT, stop in at the fire hall next Saturday and pick up an application. You’ll be able to ask all the questions you like from people who do the work every day.

And, if you can’t volunteer right now, the EFD is always in need of donations to support its work. For more information, visit the EFD’s Facebook page, or call (716) 699-2717.