150+ years of experience is represented by these five volunteers (each with 30+ years' service). From left: Sam Hadikin

Could you be a volunteer?

Rural fire departments in need of personnel infusion

This is a story involving two points. It relates to volunteer fire departments and how they need recruits to survive. The other point is a fresh initiative in the Regional District of Central Kootenay to properly say thank-you to the men and women who give their time and energy to come to the aid of others in an emergency.

Tuesday night (April 2) during the weekly practice at the Pass Creek Fire Hall I had the pleasure to meet a group of men interested in being good neighbours. They enjoy the team atmosphere and the opportunities for personal and professional advancement they’ve found with the department. They know they’re not alone when they say they need some new prospects showing up from time to time.

They know it’s a serious commitment, and that people seem to have less and less spare time than ever.

All the same, the men I spoke with that evening are adamant that every call out, every scheduled practice and every upgrading course attended is worthwhile. They’d like local folks to give it some thought, to consider calling one of the rural fire departments in their area to find out more about what goes into volunteering.

Every year in most communities there is some sort of tribute to volunteers, and the tribute could not be more deserving. A strong volunteer component can be a community’s ace in the hole.

But it’s a sad fact of modern life that in too many cases there are just too few volunteers to go around… it may be true but that doesn’t mean the situation can’t change.

The Pass Creek group is putting out the invitation for volunteers and the need is ongoing, as it is with most, if not all smaller departments.

Skylar Shelefontiuk is an example of what departments would like more of. Young, enthusiastic, athletic and ambitious, Shelefontiuk is also very well spoken. He enjoys the sense of teamwork plus the continuing opportunity to upgrade his knowledge and skills. He joined just before his 18th birthday and has been a member for six years.

“I started off as a firefighter and became a first responder,” he said. “Then I started doing the rope rescue stuff. That kind of transitioned into swift water rescue.”

Sam Hadikin, one of five Pass Creek members with 30 or more years of experience, commented about Shelefontiuk, “He’s a go-getter, a young guy who can handle the stress of being involved in things like that.”

Pass Creek Chief Brian Bebelman, chief for 28 years and member for over 30, says it’s been a great run seeing how the operation, with all-volunteer effort, has evolved over time.

It’s of interest to note that a modern rural volunteer fire department handles up to five times as many first responder calls than actual fires. The job has changed and so have the stresses involved.

It’s great for everyone to know these selfless public servants are at the ready… 24-7 year round, and that fact is the second point to make with this story.

It so happened that RDCK Rural Area “I” Director Andy Davidoff was at the Pass Creek Fire Hall on April 2, with news of an initiative hatched on March 16. It’s got a hefty title, but then again, it’s a pretty important and overdue deal. The “Volunteer Firefighter Recruitment & Retention Appreciation & Incentive Media Campaign” is intended to give these folks the recognition and credit they deserve.

Their value to society can not be overstated and with some added benefits and perks along the way, perhaps more folks would consider helping out. One thing Davidoff has in mind, for example, is a rec. centre voucher arrangement for volunteer firefighters. There are many other possibilities that can be explored as well.

A brief document prepared in advance of a concerted publicity campaign to come, indicates that 75 per cent of B.C.s fire departments are run by volunteers, and their service saves taxpayers from $70 million to $90 million a year. Those numbers don’t even begin to account for the insurance savings they represent for property owners!

The good news is that steps are already being taken to make the critically important volunteer activity more feasible for more people. A significant federal tax credit has been recently instituted, for example, and, as mentioned, more steps are under consideration.

Expect to hear more about this issue in the coming weeks and months. And for now, please give some thought to doing what you can to help. A wealth of information is available at the volunteer fire department closest to you.

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