When Ashcroftonians hear the air raid siren sound each week, they know it means that it’s 7:00 Tuesday night. What they might not also realize is that it signals the start of another training session for the Ashcroft Volunteer Fire Department.
The word “volunteer” in the name of the organization is one that Fire Chief Josh White hopes members of the public don’t misunderstand. “I think a lot of the public have a misconception regarding the concept of ‘career’ vs. ‘volunteer’,” he says. “They often think that the career firemen are professionals. Anyone in the volunteer fire service is also a professional.”
That’s where the weekly training sessions come in, featuring a variety of exercises. They range from SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) training, to working on and maintaining the hoses, to highway rescue exercises featuring Jaws of Life practice on old vehicles using a variety of different techniques. Last week’s training session was kept a secret from the department until the call came through from White back to the hall: he acted the part of a member of the public reporting a “grass fire” at the Legacy Park.
The name of the road leading to the park was changed not long ago, to Riverview Crescent, which was one of the reasons White chose that location for the exercise. “It added a new wrinkle,” he said. “People can get complacent about road names because they don’t usually change.” An added difficulty was a fire hydrant that wasn’t as accessible as most. “The crew gets used to hitting hydrants during practice that are pretty easy to get to,” he said. “This one wasn’t.” A debriefing session takes place after each week’s practice, and after every emergency the department attends. “We talk about the positives, but also discuss where we can learn from our mistakes. There’s always something new to learn.”
White stresses, however, that the Ashcroft Fire Department isn’t just about dealing with life-or-death situations. “If you see Rescue 1 pulled up in front of someone’s house, it’s not necessarily an emergency.” This is because White is trying to make the fire department more proactive in the community. Earlier this year department members installed smoke detectors in the homes of several seniors who needed them, in partnership with the Better at Home program. White wants the public to know that the fire department is there to be contacted if people have fire-related questions.
“We’re trying to encourage safety in the community. If you’re getting nuisance alarms from your smoke detector, call us. Some people remove the batteries from their smoke detector if they’re getting a lot of false alarms. That’s a safety hazard, and we ask people to give us a call and we’ll come and check it out and see what’s wrong. It could be something as simple as being located too close to the kitchen.”
The department is already proactive in the community, taking part in a variety of different events such as the Rodeo and Santa parades, the popular “Skate with Santa” at the Drylands arena, the “Fire Chief for a Day” event at the elementary school, and having information booths at the Wellness Festival and the Fall Fair. “At this year’s Fall Fair we plan to do a Jaws of Life demonstration, and are hoping to do a low level water blasting session with the hoses,” said White. He was also pleased with the decision to have many of the firefighters in this year’s Rodeo parade down mingling with the crowd instead of riding on the trucks.
The fire department is always looking for new recruits. There are 20 members at the moment, and while the junior program is full, with four members, there’s room for another five people aged 19+ to take part. The time commitment is two hours a week every Tuesday evening, and White believes there’s a place for everyone. “We try not to turn anyone away.”
It’s possible to help out the fire department in another way: by donating unwanted vehicles for use in training exercises involving the Jaws of Life. These exercises are vital in preparing firefighters for the real-life demands of an accident, but they can only be carried out if the department has vehicles on which to train. “Donated vehicles are always welcome,” says White. “We’ll pick up the vehicle, and then drop off what’s left if the owner wants it back for scrap.”
It isn’t all serious, all the time, however. The Ashcroft fire department was happy to take part in the smoke show at this year’s Graffiti Days in Cache Creek, with a car donated by Ashcroft’s Friendship Auto; a contest in which the AVFD defeated the Cache Creek Fire Department entry. “We’re looking forward to educating the CCFD on burnouts at next year’s Graffiti Days,” said White with a grin.
At the end of the day, says Chief White, the Ashcroft fire department isn’t just about fighting fires. “It’s about being part of the wellness of the community. We want to be more public oriented, and the whole department is motivated in this area. We want to be out there, doing things in the community. And what we’re seeing coming back from the community is great.”