By JAY GALLAGHER Gannett News Service 12-6-05 ALBANY Despite assurances from state officials that enough money is being spent on training for volunteer firefighters, fire officials Monday blamed recruitment problems and a spike in deaths on a lack of training. New York has the distinction in leading the nation in line-of-duty deaths, James Byrnes, the state fire administrator, told lawmakers Monday. He said more on-line training might be a potential cure. Sixteen firefighters in the state have died so far this year while on duty, compared to only six in all of 2004 and another half-dozen in 2003, according to state records. Byrnes said the long-term average has been about 12, excluding the huge total in 2001 at the World Trade Center. Maybe the easiest way to cut down on the deaths would be to require more physical-fitness training, said Byrnes and Thomas LaBelle, executive director of the state Fire Chiefs Association. Byrnes said that he would favor requiring firefighters to have more training, but LaBelle and other fire officials said the problem is that not enough classes are available, even though the state is spending about $1 million this year to pay for them. We have five instructors, but we need more, said David Jacobowitz, who was chief of the Whitesboro, Oneida County, department for 20 years. The courses would be filled if we could offer them. But Byrnes said the $1 million the state is spending is adequate. There’s a disconnect somewhere, said Assemblyman David Koon, D-Perinton, Monroe County, a member of the Local Government Committee. Clearly the Department of State and the fire services see the situation differently, said committee chairman Robert Sweeney, D-Suffolk County. He said lawmakers have to find out whether the state is spending enough money on training. The fire officials also said the lack of available training is hurting their efforts to reverse a long decline in volunteers. Since 1999, the number of volunteer firefighters in the state has dropped from about 135,000 to 100,000, according to the Firemen’s Association. In the last decade, the number of volunteer emergency-medical technicians has plummeted from 70,000 to about 40,000. Of the 1,824 municipal fire departments in the state, 95 percent are all volunteer. They range in size from the more than 11,000-member New York City Fire Department to tiny forces in rural areas. Koon said departments in his area are focusing on trying to get high-school students interested. But he said long waits for training discourages them. If we have to wait six months or a year, we’re going to lose them, he said. A panel that is looking into the possibility of taxpayer-provided health insurance as a way to lure more people into volunteering. They are due to issue a report before the end of the year.