Asbury Park Press, March 02,2008
by Fraidy Reiss- Staff Reporter

JACKSON, NJ — A volunteer firefighter for most of his life, John I. Alchevsky's first instinct is to help out when disaster strikes.

But twice in the last few years, he was unable to do so: when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and when fire swept through parts of Ocean and Burlington counties last year.

Both times, he said, his full-time job at the state Department of Corrections prevented him from pitching in.

"I would have had to use my own time, which I didn't have enough of, or I could have gone without pay, which I couldn't quite afford to do," said Alchevsky, 42, who serves as chief of the Cassville Volunteer Fire Company.

Soon that might change. Alchevsky testified last month before a U.S. Congress subcommittee in support of proposed federal legislation that would provide volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel up to 14 days per year of job protection so they may respond to a state- or federally-declared emergency or disaster.

Alchevsky testified on behalf of the National Volunteer Fire Council, along with Chief Phillip Stittleburg (LaFarge WI FD), Chairman of the NVFC.

The legislation is necessary because 75 to 80 percent of firefighters across the country are volunteers, Alchevsky said. Protecting their full-time jobs is crucial for fire departments struggling to recruit and retain first responders.

"They're the pool that comes when you need them, when the chips are down," he said.

For volunteer fire companies in suburbs like Jackson, finding volunteers is especially difficult because many residents commute to jobs outside the township and do not have the time to help the local fire company, he said in his testimony Feb. 12 before the congressional subcommittee on health, employment, labor and pensions.

Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., who represents Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties and who chairs the subcommittee, praised Alchevsky for his testimony — and for his service to Jackson.

"The guy isn't making a cent for doing this hard work and putting his life at risk," the congressman said. "He wants to go where the need is greatest, and his employer is telling him he can't."

The proposed legislation is supported by lawmakers from both parties and should pass by the end of the year, probably as part of a bill about employment rights, Andrews said.

To view Chief Alchevsky's testimony, click on the link below

To read Chief Stittleburg's testimony and see the NVFC E-Update story, go to: