Legislator Dennis Dunne (R-Levittown) recently sponsored a new bill passed by the legislature on April 20, which will provide volunteer firefighters, emergency workers and auxiliary police free tuition to colleges in Nassau County with the help of a federal grant.
The bill was proposed to increase recruitment and retention for Nassau's fire departments and EMS teams.
"I am thrilled to see this law take the next step and hope the funding becomes available as soon as possible," said Legislator Dunne. "Money is tight for all of us, and that makes it hard for people to find the time to volunteer. This program will provide a great incentive to encourage people to continue to volunteer or to join our volunteer fire departments or ambulance crews."
Wantagh firefighter and former Nassau County Fire District President Craig Craft first brought the idea to Dunne.
"I started this process about four years ago," he said. "I proposed this at Nassau Community College initially and was unsuccessful."
Craft said that Suffolk County has a similar program, which is funded by the county itself.
He solicited fire districts in Nassau County to find out how many new members each district took in every year and polled their junior and/or explorer programs.
"You're training juniors, ages 14 to 18, and spending time and energy and money on them," he said. "Then it comes time to go to college, parents tend to look for the most economical route which often leads them out of Nassau County. There was nothing ever put into place to aid the younger generation in the fire service. I thought that this would be a tool that would be specific to them."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] has three different grants that assist the fire service agencies. The SAFER [Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response] grant was created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations in order to help them increase the number of trained, "front-line" firefighters available in their communities.
"This is a great way for the county to give back to the residents who work so hard to live here," Dunne added. "There is no additional cost to the taxpayers and it underscores our appreciation for the men and women who volunteer to protect us."
According to James Callahan, commissioner of emergency management, Nassau County will apply for a $1.5 million FEMA SAFER grant from the federal government to cover the first four years of the program.
The maximum reimbursement amount would be set at the cost of tuition at Nassau Community College.
(Harry Loud also contributed to this article.)