The first class of Erie Community College students slated to receive their associate's degree through the FASNY (Firefighters Association of the State of New York) HELP (Higher Education Learning Plan) grant will begin classes in September. Until recently, Erie County was excluded from this grant opportunity made available to nearly every other county across New York State. Thanks to the efforts of Legislator Edward Rath and a group of dedicated volunteer firefighters the necessary action was taken to open the doors for firefighters to access the HELP grant.
A press conference highlighting the benefits of this program, now available to all Erie County volunteer fire departments, was held at ECC's North Campus on Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. Elected officials, FASNY representatives, ECC leadership and volunteer firefighters officially kicked-off the start of this grant program, which has already proven beneficial to the students/ recruits, fire departments, ECC and the community.
"The issue was exclusion of Erie County volunteer firefighters who were not allowed access to the same grant program offered to nearly every other county in the state. Thanks to the efforts of our local departments and FASNY representatives, I was able to put forward a resolution that was the first critical step in removing this roadblock. My colleagues in the Legislature lent their unanimous support, and approved my resolution. It wasn't long after the Legislature's approval that we received word that the necessary federal officials had signed off on this program. Now Erie County finally has access to this program," said Legislator Rath. "I have recently learned that now every single affected county in New York followed our example and is now participating in the HELP grant program."
The timing of the approval was critical as Erie County volunteer fire departments were gearing up for a major recruitment push. The response has been extremely positive with several new recruits enrolled in ECC for the fall semester. For many, the opportunity to pursue a higher education might not have been possible without this grant incentive.
"Erie Community College is proud to have worked so closely with Legislator Rath, the Erie County Department of Emergency Services and the Firemen's Association of the State of New York toward this tremendous opportunity for our students," said ECC President Jack Quinn. "Our faculty and staff work tirelessly to provide the area's most complete training for local firefighters, and we look forward to continuing this work with future servicemen and women, ones who'll be a source of Western New York pride for generations to come."
"It is our hope that all volunteer fire companies in Erie County will take full advantage of this grant made available to their members through the hard work of so many," said Thomas Chmielowiec, Fire Protection and Emergency Management Support Specialist for ECC. "Our mission is to provide a chance for a quality education to those who sacrifice their personal time 24 hours a day. It is a small contribution to say thank you and a large contribution to begin a start to a higher education."
"As a 37-year volunteer firefighter with the North Amherst Fire Company I could not be prouder of the team that brought this scholarship program to fruition for the County of Erie and it's student-volunteers. Legislator Rath, Tom Chmielowiec from ECC, Joe Abbarno from the Amherst Fire Council, Robin Schott, a member of FASNY, and myself worked tirelessly to make this happen. The students/volunteers of Erie County deserved the chance to apply for this grant, and today with this announcement, we can now offer the program to the 95 volunteer fire companies in Erie County. It is now up to the presidents and chiefs of each fire company to utilize this program as recruitment and retention program as it was designed to be. We need volunteers," said Steve DiPasquale, life member of the North Amherst Volunteer Fire Company.
"The program is extremely beneficial for both the students and volunteer fire departments," said Travis Smith, a member of Getzville Fire Department, entering his second year at ECC North, studying business.
It is not too late for new students/recruits to take advantage of the HELP grant for the fall semester. ECC will hold registration for the fall semester on Monday, Aug. 27 and Tuesday, Aug. 28. Visit www.ecc.edu for information. As outlined by FASNY, students who meet the requirements, including a 4.0 GPA, are eligible for full reimbursement. Students recording a 3.0-3.99 GPA receive 85 percent reimbursement and a GPA between 2.0-2.99 earns them 75 percent reimbursement. The grant program also requires that students/volunteers meet the necessary service demands of their fire department. Interested residents can learn more about the program by contacting their local fire department.