Recruitment Open House: April 25

By Jann Wiswall

This past Mardi Gras/Winter Carnival weekend was a lot of fun for most of us, but for our local fire departments and ambulance service, it was one of the most intense weekends in anyone’s recent memory.

Over that Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the Ellicottville Fire Department (EFD) responded to 14 calls for emergencies ranging from a vehicle gas leak, a smoke alarm response, an elevator rescue, a low hanging power line, two requests to set up landing zones for emergency medical helicopters and three motor vehicle accidents – one involving a volunteer firefighter. For the ambulance service, it was equally hectic with 13 ambulance calls and 10 transports of patients to area hospitals.

The dedicated individuals who responded to these emergencies are all volunteers who donate their time to keep the rest of us safe. And there aren’t enough of them.

On Saturday, April 25, from 1-4 p.m., the Ellicottville Fire Department is hosting an open house 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, ambulance driver or emergency medical technician (EMT), pick up some fire prevention and safety tips, enjoy some refreshments, take a ride on a fire truck and get to know the dedicated individuals who already serve their community.

It’s also an opportunity to make one of the most valuable contributions you can make to your community – become a volunteer.

Morgan Manfreda made the decision to volunteer just over a year ago when she joined the Little Valley Fire Department. She had recently relocated to the area from Erie County, where she worked for the Western New York Developmental Disabilities Services Office, taking a new position as a development support assistant with the DDSO at a group home in Little Valley.

During an ambulance call for a resident of the group home, Manfreda met Little Valley’s fire chief, who suggested she come visit the fire hall to learn what volunteering is all about. It didn’t take much convincing, she said, noting that “helping people and giving back has been a life-long interest.”

After completing her training in Little Valley, Manfreda started meeting people with the EVL Fire Department and decided to volunteer there. “I’ve always been drawn to the Ellicottville,” she said, explaining that she will be moving to the town or village in the near future. “I’ve never met a better group of people,” she said of both the fire department and the whole community. “It’s like having a new family.”

The work has been so fulfilling, in fact, that Manfreda is now training to become an EMT and will do double duty on ambulance and fire department calls.

Fortunately for Ellicottville, Manfreda is one of five EFD volunteers currently training to become EMTs.  And these professionals are sorely needed.

Every time the fire department gets a call to respond to a structure fire, an EMT must respond as well, explained Ellicottville Fire Chief Kevin Morton. And, of course, every ambulance response must have an EMT on board, plus a driver.

“Many years ago, the EFD had 70-80 volunteers and a waiting list,” says Morton, who, by the way, is also a volunteer. “Now we’re down to just over 40.”

There are many reasons for the drop in membership – an aging population and an exodus of younger people, to name a few. And it’s a problem all over the country. But in Ellicottville, the need has increased significantly as the four-season vacation community in the area grows.

“During the winter,” Morton says, “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, or splitting crews in order to get to everyone.”

Another challenge is that people seem to be busier between careers, families and other commitments.

“Most of our volunteers have full-time jobs,” said Morton, who is an employee of the Ellicottville Department of Public Works. “We know work has to come first,” he says, and employers are not always able to spare employees in the middle of their work day to allow them to respond to emergencies.

“We work around this all the time and are very flexible, so this shouldn’t stop anyone from volunteering on their own time,” he said. But it’s another “reason we need more people to fill in the gaps.”

While Manfreda is an athletic and physically fit person, Morton says athleticism is not a requirement. Volunteers do all sorts of work – from directing traffic and driving trucks or ambulances, to handling hoses and helping lift patients.

“Most people can be of help, no matter their physical strength,” Morton says.

No one does anything without the necessary training, of course, and new volunteers are given plenty of time to complete training requirements.

So, if you can give back to the community by volunteering with this exceptional group of people, stop in at the Fire Hall on the 25th (or any time) and pick up an application.

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 699-2717.