Watch Lake-North Green Lake Volunteer Fire Department, Shorty Horn Hall (Fiona Grisswell photo - 100 Mile Free Press

Watch Lake-North Green Lake Volunteer Fire Department, Shorty Horn Hall (Fiona Grisswell photo - 100 Mile Free Press

Watch Lake – North Green Lake Volunteer Fire Department open house

Recruitment drive held at Shorty Horn Firehall last weekend.

The Watch Lake-North Green Lake Volunteer Fire Department held an open house and recruitment drive at Shorty Horn Firehall on the weekend.

Fire chief Andy Palaniak said they could use some new members, noting half of their 28 volunteers are only part-time because they live in the Lower Mainland. Seven or eight of their members are also in their late 70s and would like to retire, he said.

“But they’re loyal and dedicated and they’re basically hanging on because they know they are needed,” he said. “‘I think they deserve to retire.”

The department covers a 40-kilometre radius, from Highway 97 to the east end of Watch Lake. It has two halls: the Shorty Horn Hall on Pioneer Road, and Sonny Johnson Hall located halfway down on Green lake North Road. They operate as a single department doing their training and other activities together.

The WLNGVFD only deals with a handful of fires a year, although the crew members are trained in fighting wildfires. They were a huge force last year in helping to fight the Flat Lake fire.

Palaniak hopes to attract younger members who live in the area or spend most of their time there. But he acknowledges it’s been a challenge finding recruits. 100 Mile Search and Rescue is advertising across Canada, desperate for paid-on-call members, he said.

It’s harder to find volunteer firefighters. Although they are trained to the same standards as career firefighters, there is no money involved.

Most of the firefighters in the South Cariboo are volunteers – although some are funded by the Cariboo Regional District, others like the WLGLVFD are independent societies. As an independent society, the fire department is funded by grants and annual $200 fire dues, paid for by property owners. The department receives a gaming grant most years but it is never guaranteed.

Last year, it bought a new fire engine, thanks in part to compensation received by the firefighters for their work battling the Elephant Hill wildfire, as well as a BC Lottery Capital Grant and an anonymous donation.

“Money is always an issue, said Palaniak. “We are basically always struggling.”

Tom Manion, president of the fire department society, said they need to bolster their ranks because “everybody burns out eventually.”

“You’re doing it for yourself as much as your community because everybody benefits when you’re involved.”

Palaniak agreed there are benefits to volunteering for the fire department, noting he didn’t get to know the community until he became a member.

“There’s that great social aspect, you’re helping the community out – that’s the biggest part of it.”

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