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 says 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 a spike in home insurance costs.
”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 says that 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 says, 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.”
The letter, distributed to every mailbox and widely shared on social media, drew at least six potential recruits to one of the department’s training sessions. The call is open to anyone within the fire protection district, which extends from the Vvillage limits to five kilometres outside.
However, Hansen notes that a lot of people often don’t 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 is designed to ensure that appropriate minimum levels of training are established so that firefighters are effective and safe.
In effect since 2014, the Playbook permits a 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 a lot more work for fire departments.
“The training and that nowadays is a little more extensive than it used to be,” Hansen says. “It’s not the old days when you just showed up and practiced and carried on.”
He adds 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 ‘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, says everybody wants to be a firefighter until they realize what it entails. He notes that volunteer fire departments are struggling everywhere.
Cam Robb, Chief of the 70 Mile Volunteer Fire Department, agrees that 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 [West Fraser] Chasm [mill] would be one of them,” he says. “We do have people showing up and going to call outs but we could always use more.”
Laurie Allison, a former Village of Clinton councillor who has attended the last few training sessions, says 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 says, 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 says. “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 urges those interested to come out, noting that he finds firefighting rewarding.
“It’s fun. 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, headquartered at 309 Lebourdais Avenue, is equipped with one Highway Rescue truck and two pumper trucks. Practices are every Monday evening at 7 p.m., and new volunteer members are always welcome. Anyone interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.