Firefighting, Leadership

Immigrant Volunteers Help Boost New York Departments

Volunteer firefighter ranks are dwindling across the state, but in immigrant-heavy Port Chester, the opposite is happening, according to the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, reports the New York Daily News.

“The big factor now is the fellows from Central and South America,” said Port Chester Second Assistant Chief Mike De Vittorio, a member of the association’s recruitment and retention committee. “It’s been a godsend. We are growing.”

The department’s ranks — originally filled with immigrants from Italy and Ireland — are now adding dozens of Peruvians, Mexicans and Ecuadorans, mirroring the Westchester County village’s demographic shift, he said. The 2010 census found 59.4% of Port Chester’s residents were Latino or Hispanic, and 45% were foreign-born.

“It’s Port Chester. It’s the future of the community,” said De Vittorio.

Departments in Long Island’s Brentwood and Central Islip are seeing a similar boost, officials say. “We run a recruitment program both in Spanish and in English,” said Brentwood chief Javier Valentin, 42. “I’m up to 180 members.”

The growth is in sharp contrast to statewide trends. New York’s volunteer firefighter membership has dropped by about 20,000 in the past 15 years, according to the association.

In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security gave the group a $4.2 million grant to boost staffing.

The association also runs a recruiting drive in April. More than 400 firehouses are hosting open houses on April 27 and 28; details are posted on

Tony Perez, 51, was one of the first Latinos to join Port Chester’s department, signing up with Engine 60 in 1993.

Younger guys have started stopping the Mexican native on the street and asking him, “What do we need to do to volunteer in the firehouse?” he said.

Read more of the story here