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New York Offers Volunteer Firefighters a Place to Retire

Since 1895, the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York has operated a home for volunteer firefighters. It’s the only home of its kind in the country.

When it first opened on June 5, 1895, the Firemen’s Home of New York was a simple working farm along the Hudson River in Hudson, N.Y. Home to just 15 “inmates,” as they called themselves, the place was intended as “a refuge for indigent firefighters with no safe place to live.”

The home, which eventually grew from a modest house to a three-story red brick building, was founded by the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY). The group was formed in 1872 to advocate for New York firefighters’ training, equipment and safety. Over the years, it expanded to represent the interests of volunteer firefighters in the state legislature.

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The idea for FASNY was hatched by a group of Auburn, N.Y., firefighters from two different hose companies. But the home itself was the notion of George Washington Anderson, who started his career as a volunteer firefighter in New York City in the 1850s. Anderson believed volunteer firefighters deserved a place of their own.

Today, the Firemen’s Home is the only residence of its kind in the nation for volunteer firefighters. The working farm has been replaced with a modern, high-skilled home and nursing facility that currently houses more than 60 retired volunteer firefighters. The new facility opened in 2007, and while it still takes firefighters who have little or no money, it is no longer considered a haven for “indigent” firefighters. Now, residents commit their assets in return for a full-time, full-service home, replete with private rooms, three squares and a chapel. The home also offers more intensive health-care services, including a floor dedicated to residents with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

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In New York, as in the rest of the country, volunteer firefighters make up most of the fire service. The National Fire Protection Association estimates that 69 percent of all firefighters in the U.S. in 2011 were volunteers. That proud tradition is showcased in the nearby FASNY Museum of Firefighting, which also takes visitors from the old bucket brigade days to the current era of high-tech turnout gear, self-contained breathing apparatus and compressed air foam. Every summer, the home holds a fire company softball tournament and the occasional chicken barbecue cook-off. In October, the home will host its annual Dalmatian Days, which brings together kids and dogs for a daylong educational program on fire safety and prevention.

Since its beginning, the Firemen’s Home has served more than 3,000 firefighters. They come for the familiarity, friendship and camaraderie. All of the residents refer to the facility as a true “home away from home.”

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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