Ithaca College documentary shines a light on volunteer firefighters

WETM Special Reports

ELMIRA, NY (WETM) – The majority of the firefighters in the region are volunteers and there is a shortage of them. This has raised concern for many people in the area. Justin tyler and two of his other colleagues saw this and made a mini-documentary while studying at Ithaca College to highlight this issue.

The producer of, The Slow Burn: A Volunteers Call to Duty, Justin Tyler, was shocked to hear about the realities circling around firefighting in the area.

“Ithaca is the only paid fire department in the entire Finger Lakes region and everything else surrounding them is a volunteer department which to us was crazy,” Tyler shared.

In the documentary, Tyler and the other producers shared a moving clip of one of the firefighters and why they choose to volunteer.

“Volunteering is really close to my heart because of just my personal experience with my friend and how that, um, kind of shaped why I wanted to join up in the first place,” said Lt. Alix Gresov of the Speedsville Volunteer Fire department.

When Gresov was sixteen-years-old a friend died in a fire. The circumstances surrounding his death were highlighted in the new because of the challenges the firefighters met.

“That was the first time I kind of decided I want to join up and make sure that that doesn’t happen, or do my best to make sure that doesn’t happen again to anyone else,” Gresov said in the documentary.

For Tyler, the issues surrounding volunteer firefighters came close to home and the making of the class project gave him some clarity.

In 2013, Tyler experienced a house fire in Long Island.

“I was very better for a long time about how the fire department didn’t respond fast enough and it carried with me I was like, wow, you know maybe there are some issues with it,” Tyler explained.

According to Tyler the fire department was very close to his home and didn’t understand why it took the crews so long to get to his home.

“A couple of months ago, after this documentary was made, I looked it up and I looked a the department that came was a completely voluntary department,” said Tyler.

Volunteers don’t necessarily stay at the station when on call. Making time to get to fire take longer in some cases.

“People had to come from their homes then get ready and then come out to the fire. Were paid fire department it’s just, the bell rings, boom, they are there,” said Tyler.

In the West Elmira Fire Department, a need for more volunteers exists. Ronald McConnell has been a volunteer firefighter there for forty-years. When he started, McConnell estimates that there were eighty-nine-volunteers, now, he believes there are fifteen to twenty.

During our interview, I asked tyler what he would have added to the documentary if he had more time.

“I would have gone deeper into what handcuffs volunteer departments because it’s not a commitment issue. The people who are there want to be there and are trying to save lives and are as committed to saving lives as anybody who gets paid to be a firefighter. They are exactly the same people they are going for the exact same goals but when it’s a volunteer department there are just so many more hurdles to jump that it’s becoming, honestly, a crisis,” Tyler said.

To watch the full documentary click the link below:

The Slow Burn: A Volunteer’s Call to Duty

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