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Volunteer firefighters in Rensselaer decry treatment from city

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RENSSELAER, N.Y. (WRGB) - Volunteer firefighters in Rensselaer stood before their council Wednesday night sharing feelings of discouragement from the city they selflessly serve.

The council meeting was scheduled just hours after the volunteer fire chief resigned.

"There's a lot of people that felt they were neglected," said one volunteer who spoke during public comment.

Many of the volunteers spoke about a lack of state mandated training and medical exams.

"They kind of pushed us off to the side and didn't make it a priority that we get our physicals and we get these OSHA classes and stuff like that," said Gene Hilstro, Engine 4 President.

Rensselaer County Legislature Chairman Mike Stammel, a volunteer firefighter in the city for four decades, says if volunteers want training they have to go to another community to get it.

"On your own dime, you know, when you're trying to protect your own community. That's unacceptable," Stammel said.

Stammel also says many volunteers feel like the city has been slowly snuffing them out.

For example, he says the city's fire department has been calling for mutual aid from surrounding volunteer districts instead of utilizing their own volunteers.

"It's discouraging to the volunteers that are here that they're notifying people from outside the community to come in before they notify us," Stammel explained.

Wednesday night, Common Council President Rich Mooney, who was also a volunteer firefighter for several years, openly addressed the concerns.

"We are going to get the volunteers up and running and we will have an open dialogue. That's going to happen. We'll let them come to us and tell us what they feel, how they feel, how we can work with them moving forward," Mooney said.

Mooney says training has been scheduled for volunteers on Saturday at the firehouse at 8 a.m.

Two additional training courses have been scheduled next week for those who can't make it on Saturday.

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Statement attributable to Steve Butler, President of Rensselaer Professional Firefighters, IAFF Local 2643:

“In light of recent developments within the city fire department, the 15 members of the Rensselaer Professional Firefighters want to assure all city residents that we are fully prepared to quickly respond to all emergency calls - anytime, anywhere. Last year, we responded to more than 1,900 calls. We're also committed to assisting all firefighters as they receive the necessary training which will help them serve Rensselaer residents. We appreciate the efforts of our volunteer partners and elected officials as we work together to ensure the safety of every man, woman and child across our great city.”

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