FASNY funding may grant full ride for volunteer firefighters
Funding through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant and FASNY Higher Education Learning Plan would provide tuition reimbursement for volunteers looking to attend college, typically for attendees who are full-time and looking to get their first degree.
Officials hope this added incentive adds to fire company numbers, in turn keeping communities safe with fresh recruits looking to devote their time to their community.
“If they have an associate’s degree, they can go to Empire State for their bachelor’s, and it would cover them there,” said Tom Chmielowiec with Erie Community College.
“The nice thing about this grant is they can take any course that the college has to offer, everything from culinary to auto mechanics to auto body to graphic arts — anything that they want.”
At ECC, a group of 38 firefighters took advantage of the program when it was first introduced. That number has grown to 408.
“The revenue has been great coming into the college, and it’s something that we need,” added Chmielowiec.
An additional 29 colleges besides ECC currently participate in the tuition reimbursement program.
The grant used to be funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency but has not seen federal support for two years.
U.S. Rep. Chris Collins formally supported the FASNY’s SAFER grant application during a press conference at Depew Fire Hall on April 8, along with other county officials.
“It was a four-year grant as I understand it the last time, which was about five years ago. The grant has expired, and right now [FASNY] is funding this out of their own budget,” Collins said.
“We’re trying very hard to work collaboratively to get the new SAFER grant into Erie County, actually across the state, which would service us right here, helping in the recruitment of young adults to have tuition assistance to go to ECC.”
Legislators Ted Morton and Ed Rath also spoke to the importance of the grant, adding that the Erie County Legislature unanimously supported the application.
“It’s a changing society now. Becoming a volunteer is not the first priority of many people. This program is so important to encourage younger people to step up, join their volunteer fire departments and be an asset to their community,” said Legislator Ted Morton.
“Volunteer fire departments are the backbone of so many of our suburban communities here in Erie County.”
For Depew Fire Chief Scott Wegst, the tuition assistance program is a win-win for the company, residents, local colleges and those looking to attend.
“That’s kind of the whole point of this, keep people local and within the area so they can volunteer and go to school,” said Wegst.
“It can only help us. It’s something that we use as a recruitment tool to try to get people in the door. We put it on our fliers, our website, our Facebook page.”
Depew Mayor Jesse Nikonowicz echoed Wegst, hoping that FEMA picks up the slack for a program that strengthens a pillar of the Depew community: “Recruitment and retention is huge; our ranks have dropped significantly, and this is something that can entice individuals in continuing to serve their community.”
To learn more about tuition reimbursement through FASNY, visit www.fasny.com/resources/fasny-help/.