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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"What would we do without them?"

ALBANY, April 21 -- It’s a thought that comes to mind every time there’s another natural disaster, another emergency, another act of terror like what we saw last week in Boston and in Texas: What would we do without our first responders?

Always among the most powerful images from these terrible events are the photos of firefighters carrying the wounded to safety, first responders rushing toward – not away from – danger, police officers instinctively shielding everyone else from harm.

We saw these images yet again last week in the aftermaths of the Boston Marathon bombings and the fertilizer plant explosion in central Texas. They are images of heroism and they leave us wondering: Where would we turn without these heroes in these times of need?

And so terrible events like these are times, also, to reassess our response strategies, reevaluate our emergency services, and reflect on how we can and must do better.

So this week, at a time when Americans everywhere will observe National Volunteer Week, I’d like to take a moment to do just that -- and to do it in a way that focuses on the place that our emergency first responders hold in our communities and throughout our society.

Because in so many quiet ways, each and every day, a police officer, an EMT, a paramedic, or a firefighter is the strongest thread holding together the fabric of our cities, towns and villages. Maybe nowhere is this more true than in rural, small town regions like ours where the volunteer fire department and the volunteer ambulance service has been the bedrock and the anchor of the community for generations. We read it virtually every week in our newspapers -- another volunteer firefighter being honored for decades of service, another first responder for an act of bravery, another police officer standing tall on the community’s behalf.

They are amazing stories -- big stories of courage and smaller acts of kindness -- that have earned our admiration and respect.

Which makes the fact that so many volunteer services are struggling to keep up their ranks one of the most troubling challenges we face. In my view, our focus in government must include the long-term ability of local volunteer fire companies and ambulance services to recruit and retain volunteers.

Today, according to statistics, volunteer fire departments account for 73% of all of America’s fire departments. Very simply, each one stands as a source of civic pride and community involvement The men and women who keep these organizations going year after year are literally lifelines of community action and support.

And always in the background, anytime we consider the future of volunteer emergency services, is this: Prominent organizations like the New York State Association of Towns and the Firemen’s Association of New York (FASNY) point out time and again their value.

For instance, the Association of Towns ( issued a report several years ago that pegged the cost to local taxpayers statewide at more than $7 billion annually to replace volunteers with paid fire and ambulance services. According to FASNY (, the number of volunteer firefighters statewide has dropped from 140,000 in the early 1990s to fewer than 90,000
today. Volunteer emergency medical technicians (EMTs) declined from more than 50,000 to 35,000 during the same period, with some rural counties experiencing as much as a 50-percent depletion of their EMT ranks.

So with all of these ongoing challenges in mind, I’m proud to continue sponsoring, along with area Assemblymen Phil Palmesano and Chris Friend, what’s known as the “Emergency Services Volunteer Incentive Act.” Our legislation would put in place a mix of tax relief and other incentives
aimed at attracting and retaining volunteers.

Its overriding purpose is twofold. First, it serves as a starting point for an overdue discussion on how to respond to the dwindling numbers..

But equally important – and especially timely given last week’s tragedies in Boston and in Texas -- it keeps attention focused on the true heart of the matter: What would we do without our first responders?

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison

Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967

Doris L. Karius, 546-5544

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385

Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482

Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Christopher Friend -- Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
Room 720, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-4538


© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869