Coventry, CT, Eyes College Students for Live-In Firefighters

June 18, 2024
In an effort to recruit firefighters, Coventry Fire and EMS if offering dorm-style living to students in exchange for fire/EMS responders.

Jun. 17—COVENTRY — With fire departments across the state dealing with potential shortages of volunteers, some are taking a more novel approach to filling the positions by giving students at area universities an extra incentive for signing up.

Coventry Fire and EMS recently began a program to recruit college students to become emergency medical technicians by offering them a place to live at the department's main firehouse on Main Street. In exchange for their work, they'll live in what equates to a college dorm room — two beds per room with a desk — with access to a common room with a TV and couches, bathrooms, and a full kitchen area.

In order to apply, students must have an active Connecticut EMT certification and a standard Connecticut driver's license in order to drive the ambulance.

Capt. Craig Malan said the department hopes bringing in college students will spread the workload and prevent burnout among its volunteers. He said it could also save the town money, as the department would have to rely less on an outside ambulance company to help answer calls.

"We want to spread the work," Malan said. "This was one of the things Chief (Bud) Meyers and leadership came up with to add more volunteers to our roster."

With the University of Connecticut's Storrs campus and Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic within easy driving distance, Fire/EMS Administrative Assistant Natalie Jellinek said that the department's proximity to those universities could encourage students to join the program.

"It seemed like a good avenue to try," she said, adding that the department is looking to recruit four student volunteers by the fall semester.

Malan said that Coventry has had many pre-med students volunteer in the past to gain their required patient contact hours.

"EMS is one of the ways to do that," Malan said. "We see a number of college students wanting to get exposure in the field, and this is a way to do that."

Like other volunteers, students would also receive a points-based stipend for responding to calls, covering duty shifts, and attending training exercises.

"We do in-house training weekly — classroom and live exercise. We have a great training department," Malan said. "Also to be compliant, there's work to be done to maintain EMS certification. There's continuing education. Our goal is to provide that in house to our members."

And with room costs for in-state students starting around $8,000 per year at UConn and averaging about $5,000 per semester at ECSU, "we know that college is expensive, and one of those expenses is typically room and board," Malan said.

Though the live-in program is just beginning in Coventry, other departments in the state have found success with their programs. Easton, which Coventry based its program on, hosts one to three students per semester in its 100-year-old retired firehouse, Easton EMS Chief of Service Jonathan Arnold said.

Using a similar program in Maryland as its starting point, Easton began its program in 2012 with what Arnold said was "varied levels of success." However, when the COVID pandemic hit and students had more time to volunteer, Arnold said the program really took off.

"This resulted in some of our best response rates in our history — above 95 percent coverage," he said.

Though its program mostly caters to students at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Arnold said that they have worked with students from other area universities and community colleges over the years.

In exchange for the free rent, which includes a single bed, a desk, and a small closet, students are expected to cover the midnight to 7 a.m. shift on weekdays.

Unlike Coventry, Easton does not provide a stipend, but Arnold said that students can earn tax credits up to $2,000 and gift cards for working outside of their required hours.

The Trumbull Volunteer Fire Company also has a live-in program for its firefighters, and prefers that a student have a background in firefighting and a Firefighter I certification, but it is not required to apply.

Vice President Brian O'Connor II said the department can accommodate 11 students, who would be split between the Trumbull Volunteer Fire Company, which serves the Trumbull Center Fire District, and the Long Hill Volunteer Fire Company, which serves the Long Hill Fire District.

O'Connor said the department has had great luck recruiting students from the University of New Haven, which has a bachelor's degree program in fire science. Four students have already been confirmed to participate in the fire department's program in the fall.

"I think the program has been a huge success," O'Connor said. "We've been extremely active in recruiting folks, not from just within the town of Trumbull, but surrounding towns."


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