The Clinton Volunteer Fire Department has put a call out for new recruits, warning that if it doesn’t have enough volunteers, residents could face increased home insurance costs.
In a letter to residents, Clinton Fire Chief Wayne Walch said a component of house insurance is predicated on fire protection, which means “the amount you pay is affected by how the fire protection is rated for the village.” If the department falls below the specified minimum of volunteers for an extended period, it could lose its ‘protected status,’ resulting in home insurance costs to spike.
”The money allocated for fire protection in the village budget is not enough to pay full-time or even part-time firefighters so we have to rely on a volunteer group of citizens to fill the need,” the letter states.
Deputy chief Karl Hansen said at the moment the department has about 14 firefighters but many are older and want to retire. They would like to have a group of about 20, he said, to ensure they can meet the minimum numbers and be able to service every call.
“We just put the push out there to try and get more people in there and our numbers up,” Hansen said.
The letter, distributed to every mailbox and widely shared on social media, drew at least six potential recruits to the department’s training session last week. The call is open to anyone within the fire protection district, which expands from the village limits to five kilometres outside.
However, he noted a lot of people don’t often stick around, partly because of the new mandated firefighting standards, which require intensive training and at least a year’s commitment. The new B.C. Structure Firefighter Competency & Training Playbook are designed to ensure that appropriate minimum levels of training are established so firefighters are effective and safe.
In effect since 2014, the Playbook permits the local government to clearly identify the specific training that is associated with their chosen level of service. Departments must have eight to 10 members fully trained in the playbook, which has made it a lot more work for fire departments.
“The training and that nowadays is a little more extensive than it used to be,” Hansen said. “It’s not the old days when you just showed up and practiced and carried on.”
He added it’s hard retaining people once they have to deal with road rescue, which is the bulk of their calls. “We try and warn them. We always tell them too ‘if the road rescue stuff is not for you, don’t go on those calls. Some people have better skill sets than others.”
Brad Painter, who recently joined his dad, three brothers and a cousin in the department, said everybody wants to be a fireman until they realize what it entails. He noted volunteer fire departments are struggling everywhere.
Cam Robb, Chief of the 70 Mile Volunteer Fire Department, agreed it’s especially hard in small towns to bring in new people and the situation could have a trickle-down effect on the homeowner. “We’re an older demographic and there’s not a lot of young families especially after the mill closures – the Chasm would be one of them,” Robb said. “We do have people showing up and going to callouts but we could always use more.”
Laurie Allison, a former village of Clinton councillor who has attended the last few training sessions, said she’s willing to give it a go, noting that while the stereotypical firefighters are “young buff guys,” she feels she can still contribute, even as a 55-year-old woman. She has secretarial skills, she said, which could help with the increased paperwork.
“You might not be the first one there to go on the call but there’s still stuff to put away,” she said. “It’s a ‘more hands make light work’ situation. I told Wayne ‘I can’t run three miles with 40 pounds on my back’ but he said ‘neither can I.’”
Hansen urged those interested to come out, noting he finds firefighting rewarding. “It’s fun,” he said. “I enjoy it because you get to do all kinds of different things. I enjoy the training, the sense of community, to give back. You’re always learning something.”
The Clinton Volunteer Fire Department, at 309 Lebourdais Ave. is equipped with one Highway Rescue truck and two pumper trucks. Practices are every Monday evening at 7:00 pm. New volunteer members are always welcome. If interested, email: firstname.lastname@example.org