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Volunteer firefighters across New York are getting reimbursed for required training

Sisters Emily and Kaitlyn Leniek are two of the over 100 volunteer firefighters who recently received state stipend payments to offset the cost of required training.
Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo
/
WSKG News
Sisters Emily and Kaitlyn Leniek are two of the over 100 volunteer firefighters who recently received state stipend payments to offset the cost of required training.

Fire departments across New York received state funds last week to help their volunteer responders pay for required training. The funds come from a $10 million state program meant to help volunteer departments recruit new firefighters.

‘A lot of training’ 

Emily and Kaitlyn Leniek are among the more than 100 volunteer firefighters across the state who were reimbursed for their required training.

The two sisters volunteer at the Endwell Fire Department in Broome County. They went through training together, using handline fire hoses and putting out live fires from inside and outside of buildings.

Emily, 20, said she fell in love with firefighting as soon as she started classes.

“It's a lot of training,” Emily Leniek said. She balances firefighting with nursing school. “It's usually multiple times a week for three hours, and it's hands-on, you're usually sweaty after it. Once you get done with the basic trainings, you have training once a week.”

Now, Emily and her sister go out on calls together, putting their training to use.

“It's really nice knowing I have my sister's back,” said Kaitlyn Leniek, 17. “And she's older than me, so she’s always helping me and being there for me, and I'm really happy to have her with me.”

The sisters joined their father, Kevin Leniek, who has been a volunteer firefighter at the station himself for over 30 years. Their mother, Megan, said she is fairly used to the volunteer firefighter lifestyle by now.

“I'll hear the alarm go off in the middle of the night and just hear the door close behind them, and just hope that they're always being safe,” Megan Leniek said. “As a mom, you worry about their safety, but I am just overwhelmed with pride for them, honestly.”

Emily and Kaitlyn said the stipend will help them pay for new gear that might not be covered by the station otherwise.

Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo
/
WSKG News
Jackie Bray, commissioner of the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, visited the Endwell Fire Department to award a handful of volunteers with a $10,000 check to pay for required training.

‘Huge costs’ 

New York’s volunteer fire departments have been steadily losing members in recent years, even as the number of calls they get rises.

Jackie Bray, commissioner for the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, said volunteer firefighters are required to take at least 100 hours of training to do the job.

“Those individuals had to do that without any compensation,” Bray said. “There's huge costs to that, whether it’s in time away from family, or literally time off of your job in order to complete your training.”

State Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo said volunteers should be able to offset the costs of required training, especially given the nature of the job.

“This is complicated work. It's gotten more complicated over the years,” Lupardo said. “Of course, they're responding to house fires, but they're out there responding to accidents, to hazardous material spills, medical emergencies and climate-related problems, from flooding to heat distress and all points in between.”

Officials say they hope the stipend program will help fire departments recruit and retain members. In total, the state dispersed over $140,000 in the first round of stipend payments. Volunteers received $750 stipends for exterior training and $1,250 for interior training.

In the Southern Tier, fire departments in Delaware, Chemung, Broome, Schuyler, Tompkins and Cortland counties received funds.