The Regional District of Central Kootenay is recruiting volunteer firefighters for all 18 fire departments under its jurisdiction. Seven departments are operating with a minimum level of volunteers, but all could use some reinforcement. Ootischenia, Pass Creek, Blewett and Ymir are especially in need of help.
Regional Fire Chief Terry Swan says that volunteer recruitment and retention is the number one issue that faces all volunteer fire departments. “It is an effort. It is ongoing and I am certain will continue to be the number one issue for years to come,” said Swan.
New volunteers are constantly needed to replace those that retire or move away. Current lifestyles and job schedules make it more complicated for many to volunteer, but the two hour per week training commitment is very manageable. Training is done weekly at each firehall, but the night varies from station to station. Volunteers also carry a pager and are called in when an emergency arises.
No experience is necessary to become a volunteer and training to professional standards is part of the package. All required personal protective equipment is provided, there are no out of pocket expenses.
Becoming a volunteer firefighter not only helps the community, but often helps with one’s career and personal growth. “It looks really great on a resume that you have this kind of volunteer work and you are doing such a huge service for the community,” said Deb Burnett, RDCK administrative assistant for Fire and Emergency services. “You are trained completely from the ground up, so you are becoming stronger, you are developing interpersonal skills, you are working together as a team.” These skills translate well into everyday life.
The training not only covers the expected firefighting skills, but first responder, swift water rescue, over embankment rescue, wildland interface and jaws of life training also. The RDCK also has an officer development training program for those wishing to take the next step to become officers.
Current volunteers encompass all ages and come from many socioeconomic backgrounds and are both male and female. More women are joining all of the time, and the Balfour department has a female Deputy Fire Chief. Younger firefighters are also being recruited with several RDCK fire departments incorporating a Junior Firefighter Training program for those under age 19 that would like to volunteer.
Volunteer firefighters receive insurance coverage through WorkSafe BC, 24 hour accident insurance coverage and $100,000 life insurance in case of accidental death. The federal government also provides tax credits to volunteer firefighters who serve at least 200 hours per year.
If you want more information on becoming a volunteer firefighter, you can call the department that is closest to you. If you are ready to volunteer, an application is available on the RDCK web site. The next step requires obtaining a medical clearance form, criminal background check and a drivers abstract from ICBC. Any fees incurred will be reimbursed after completion of the new recruit three month probation period.
“Everybody isn’t going to be the guy kicking open the door. There is a role for everybody; we have driver operators, people that do administrative roles,” said Ootischenia Fire Chief George Hamm.” If you have a bad knee or a bad back, don’t hesitate to call. Come on out, maybe we have a role for you. Fill out an application, all of the departments are looking.”