100 Mile Fire Rescue has had another record-breaking year, responding to 561 calls in 2021.
Fire chief Roger Hollander said his department was the fifth busiest in their dispatch area, behind Quesnel, Kitimat, Terrace and Prince George. In fact, he said they responded to 100 more calls than the Williams Lake Fire Department, which has more resources and manpower.
“That’s a lot for a department that typically runs at two full-time staff and 28 paid-on-call volunteers,” Hollander said. “We thought, when we got to 500 calls we’ll see how that goes but I can tell you certainly our resources need to be matching that.”
Hollander said both fire-related and rescue calls are up this year, at 124 calls, along with medical-related files. He suspects the increase is due to the influx of new people settling in 100 Mile House over the past two years.
He worries the trend will continue in 2022, noting the department is averaging two calls a day – a significant number for a small department.
“It’s important for the public to understand these services are not automatic. They’re largely provided by 28 volunteer firefighters if they’re available. There’s no guarantee,” Hollander said. “The other day we were called to assist the ambulance and only myself arrived. No one else was able to come because they were busy with their full-time careers or family.”
Hollander said he is proud of his team’s dedication but worries that his firefighters will start burning out if the call load continues its upward climb. Recruitment and retention are also more difficult than in the past, he noted, adding people need to pay the bills and on-call work doesn’t always cut it.
In order to maintain their current level of service, Hollander said he will be pushing for more resources, such as a few more full-time firefighters to reinforce the volunteer force.
“I think it’s smart to be proactive rather than reactive,” Hollander said. “We have to start making some changes to keep meeting our levels of service.”
In the meantime, Hollander said the department will be actively recruiting this February and encourages anyone within 100 Mile’s fire protection area who is interested to join. Candidates must be 18 or older, physically fit, have a drivers license and have no criminal record.
“We’re looking for seven to eight paid on-call firefighters,” Hollander said. “We’ve talked about the number of calls that we get but you don’t obviously have to go to every call that we get. It’s when it fits into your lifestyle but it is a part-time job. You do have to make some sacrifices to help others and I don’t think there’s anything nobler than to set aside your personal life for the rest of your community.”
The department is also expected to receive a new fire truck in the next 14 months. Hollander said the new engine will have a Spartan chassis, a brand new pump and the latest technology tailored for the South Cariboo. It will replace the department’s number two engine, which is over 25 years old.