BUFFALO—As recently as spring 2012, Erie County’s community college students couldn’t take advantage of a New York grant program that allows volunteer firefighters to receive tuition reimbursement in exchange for first responder service. Now, not only can Erie Community College’s students access the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York Higher Education Learning Plan but, for the Fall 2013 semester, they boast the state program’s highest enrollment.
“Today we celebrate the success of this higher education opportunity for our brave first responders,” said Erie County Legislator Edward Rath, whose tireless work on a resolution helped bring the noted grant funding to western New York in time for the Fall 2012 semester. “Congratulations to each of the students who are taking advantage of this grant and have enrolled in ECC, and thank you for your dedicated service to our communities. With this grant money you can work towards a more prosperous future for you and your families.”
The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) developed the plan as an incentive for people to serve in volunteer fire service. New York’s volunteer fire departments are currently experiencing a critical need to recruit and retain members. As an incentive for people to serve, FASNY developed the Higher Education Learning Plan (FASNY HELP). This program provides tuition reimbursement to individuals attending community college for up to eighty (80) credit hours. In Fall 2012, ECC enrolled 38 students in the tuition assistance program.
According to ECC FASNY Tuition Representative Tom Chmielowiec, the college hosts 63 students in Fall 2013, with hopefully even more expected next semester.
“ECC is very proud and honored to be part of the FASNY Program and to be able to serve our firefighters with the education needs they have,” said Chmielowiec, who reports that students are currently enrolled in 18 of ECC’s FASNY-approved programs like Criminal Justice and Nursing.
Under FASNY HELP, student-volunteers are eligible to have up to 100% of their tuition reimbursed in exchange for maintaining their grades and fulfilling defined service requirements. They must also be a “member in good standing” in one of New York’s volunteer fire companies during both their school years and service payback period. And, if they’re in good standing, they’ll be good firefighters on the job, something Steve DiPasquale—a 38-year member of the North Amherst Volunteer Fire Department—notes as essential to Erie County.
“We need volunteers and the FASNY HELP program has become one of the more successful recruitment programs in the Volunteer Fire Service in Erie County,” said DiPasquale. “Along with Legislature Rath, Tom Chmielowiec from ECC, Joe Abbarno of the Amherst Fire Council, and Robin Schott of FASNY, the 95 Volunteer Fire Organizations across Erie County can now offer this program as a recruitment and retention tool. It is now up to the presidents and chiefs of each volunteer fire service organization to utilize this program as it was designed to be.”
And, ask any student already aided by FASNY HELP and they’ll say the program is designed to help students get an education—and serve their communities while doing so.
“I applied as soon as I was informed about the program being opened up by Erie County,” said Travis Smith, an ECC student and Getzville Fire Co. line clerk who’s working toward a business-related bachelor’s degree. “If it weren’t for the Getzville Fire Co., FASNY HELP and ECC, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
It’s not too late for new students/recruits to take advantage of the HELP grant for the spring semester. 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.
For information on the program or to simply apply, go online to www.fasny.com/index.php/resources/fasny-help, send e-mail to HELP@fasny.com to the attention of John D’Alessandro, deputy volunteer programs coordinator, or call (855) 367-6933.
Since 1946, Erie Community College has met the needs of a diverse student body while contributing to the economic vitality of Western New York. As a member of the state’s SUNY system, the three-campus college provides flexible, affordable and accessible educational programs in an accommodating academic environment. Equipped with the knowledge of these programs, ECC’s faculty, staff and students strive to enrich their host communities through skill, service and partnership.