The Dawson Creek Fire Department is looking for volunteers to help those who help save the city from fires.
Bob Fulton, the department’s deputy fire chief, said that they are looking for more auxiliary firefighters who volunteer their time during certain emergencies, to help the regular, paid firefighters.
“We’ve been shorthanded for a couple of years,” Fulton said. “We’ve been down to half the (auxiliary firefighter) staffing that we’re looking for … we need to build up so that we can work on having a good complement of trained auxiliary firefighters.”
Currently, the Department only has four full-time auxiliary fire fighters, a situation that Fulton hopes to change with a public awareness campaign.
Should any volunteers come forward because of the campaign, they will learn many of the same skills that a paid firefighter would, with the eventual goal of teaching them the same skills that an entry-level firefighter would have.
These firefighters would know how to work a hose, how to help someone who’s having a heart attack, CPR, and more.
“We can’t use them unless they’re trained,” Fulton added. “We don’t want to hurt them, and we don’t want to have to baby sit them.”
Beyond just the training, Fulton has seen many people who began as timid volunteers become much braver and confident once they have more experience.
“The training … gives a person the confidence to do things that they normally wouldn’t do,” he said. “Once you’re in this business you learn to become self-confident.”
Once that is done, they can be partnered up with more experienced, paid firefighters for major fires. These calls were needed for a number of major fires over the previous years, including a grain elevator fire and the fire near Wildcat Video in downtown Dawson Creek.
In one case, they even helped save lives, albeit not those of humans. During a 2006 duplex fire, firefighters were told by residents that there were still some pets in the building. As the main firefighter crews battled the blaze, auxiliary firefighters went around with a paid staff member to rescue a snake, a rabbit, a cat and a dog, carrying their cages out with them.
However, Fulton admits that volunteers could potentially be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which may cause issues with their employers.
Their employers would also have to allow these employees to leave should disaster fall.
“If a company could allow them to leave, that would be great,” said Fulton. “The employer supports the community in that regard by saying, ‘Okay, I’m going to let him go and do this.’ ”
Volunteers would also have to attend meetings at least 60 per cent of their regular Tuesday meetings, which can be difficult for some in the community.
“Most of the young people are in the oil patch so they don’t have that much spare time or free time to do volunteer work, or they’re busy with hockey, families and things like that,” he said. “This would take a person dedicated to saying … I would like to learn about the things behind the fire department, I want to help the city.”
One such volunteer, Steve Oliver, has been an auxiliary volunteer firefighter when he is not employed by Peace Country Toyota.
“It’s a great experience … people should know that when they do come here they’ll be trained properly and it’s a lot of fun.”
Oliver said that he originally joined up because he wanted to volunteer in Dawson Creek.
“It’s very intense at times but it’s very rewarding … when you’ve got to help out somebody in need,” he said.
His employer has also been accommodating to his volunteer activities.
“They knew that if I get called it’s something that’s very pressing for safety in our community.”
He also has enough training that an entry-level firefighter has. While he has paid from his own pocket for some training, he did this by choice and said that people could gain their NFPA 1001 certification that paid entry-level firefighters have.
Because he was trained enough, Oliver could respond to the Alaska Hotel fire last September, which saw the building unfortunately burn to the ground.
“I was on scene before the flames were coming out of the building,” said Oliver.
Oliver worked side by side with the paid firefighters, handling the hoses used to spray water into the building to keep it from spreading.
However, these auxiliary firefighters do not always do the same risky activities that other firefighters do.
“The only way we would send (the auxiliary firefighters) into a burning building would be if it was a training exercise or if they were working from a distance from the fire so they could assist the career staff,” explained Fulton.
For firefighters, whether they are auxiliary or paid, safety is important.
“Everybody reacts differently to stress,” said Oliver. “That’s why we train constantly, so that when do you get in that situation you know what to do and you’ll keep yourself safe.”