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Newsday - Halesite FD uses social media to recruit

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

By JENNIFER BARRIOS
When its membership dwindled to 60 -- the lowest number since 1985 -- the Halesite Fire Department decided to use a 21st century tool to reach out to the small community of 2,498.

Instead of just putting up signs, the all-volunteer department turned to Twitter and Facebook. It also mailed invitation letters to all Halesite residents, informing them of two open house recruitment drives last month.

Thanks to that push, First Assistant Chief Dan McConnell said the department already had nine applications and expected to get a few more. Normally, Halesite receives one or two applications to join the department annually, he said.
"We did this type of drive once before, in the mid to late '80s," McConnell, 44, said. "It was very successful, but we didn't have the draw we had this time around."

Getting new recruits is especially vital as the department's membership ages, he said."The average age here is closer to retirement," he said.

At the second of two open houses last week, nine potential members showed up. They hefted the Jaws of Life, climbed into an ambulance, and tried on a probationary firefighter's helmet.

Among them was Steve Lapp, 31, a project manager for a software company in New York City, who moved to Halesite six months ago. He jumped in and out of the department's ladder truck with a big smile on his face.

"I want to help out," Lapp said, adding that he liked the idea that everyone was a volunteer.

Sarah Smith, 31, came with her husband, Ben Smith, a student at Hofstra's new medical school. The couple moved to Halesite about a month ago, and decided to attend the open house after seeing it advertised in front of the fire house.

"I always wanted to be part of an EMS service in a community setting," said Sarah Smith, who moved to Halesite from Vermont, where she worked as a wilderness EMT. "When you move somewhere new, you want to be involved."

McConnell said he was gratified by the response -- especially from younger residents.

"It went great," he said. "My guess is we'll probably end up with 10 to 12 applications."




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