The Quesnel Volunteer Fire Department has been shored up this year with an influx of new recruits.
Nine men and women signed up to volunteer for the department, and recently completed their basic training.
Nine is a record for the department in recent years, says fire chief Sylvain Gauthier.
“Normally we average maybe four to five every two years. This year, we were lucky because we had lots of people applying over the last 12 months,” he says.
Gauthier says he actually had a total of 13 apply, but some didn’t respond when it was time to begin training.
The department didn’t do a particular membership drive to achieve these numbers, says Gauthier, but he thinks last year’s wildfires could have prompted more people to take an interest.
“It’s just word of mouth. Some [new recruits] are from the mills and they are working with some of our members, so they were encouraged to apply.
“Also maybe with all the issues with forest fires last summer, that could have had a bearing on it.”
The fire chief says it can be difficult to bring in just a few new recruits at a time, so the extra bodies were welcome.
“If we only have two people sign up for one year, it’s hard to do a course. When it’s time for practice, we need to make sure there’s enough to form a group,” he explains.
That wasn’t a problem this year.
Tyler Bartels, Jordan Cook, Michael Dobson, Hayden Fletcher, Jeremy Gutoski, Elicia Hadley, Chad Neadow, Everett Raynor and Mike Rempel recently completed their first 40 to 50 hours of training. They’ll now be on probation for around six months, able to perform some, but not all, tasks at a fire, until they are gradually brought up to speed on all skills required.
The recruits say the training has been valuable, involving everything from practice entering a burning building and learning hose control to hooking up to hydrants. They were also tested on tree types, to be able to understand how a fire will react with different species during a wildfire.
“I think the training is ongoing, we’re going to continue learning. But it’s been good,” says Cook, who works at Cariboo Pulp & Paper. “[The basic training] is only a toe-dip into it all.”
Cook says he was motivated to join the department after being part of the fire crew at work.
“I wanted to learn some new skills, and participate in a way that you don’t normally get to. Growing up here, you get to throw a little bit back,” he says.
Hadley, the lone female recruit, says she liked the idea of being helpful to the community and finding motivation to keep herself fit and active.
She says being the only woman hasn’t fazed her.
“It’s not that bad. I’ve been in lots of situations where I’ve been surrounded by all men. I can take it, I’ve got tough skin!”
With the new members, Gauthier says the department now has about 44 volunteers, plus four full-time, paid members. Firefighters respond to either the downtown or the Red Bluff fire hall, depending where they live. The West Quesnel fire hall is currently used only to store a ladder truck, as there aren’t enough members in the area to respond to the hall. The four or five members who live on the westside now respond downtown.
Gauthier says the decision to bring in a new member is based partly on interest, but the department also vets candidates for suitability.
“We look at their applications and bring them in and talk to make sure they are the right fit. We want to make sure we have the right poeple for the job; we can’t have pepole who might have issues with confinement or other things like that. We just talk to them and ask, ‘Are you ready to go inside a burning building? Do you have issues with total darkess, putting a mask over your face?” he explains.
He also says retaining new members can be tricky. The fire department asks that members attend fire practice each week and that they respond to 10 per cent of the calls in a given month.
“Normally within the first two years, we probably lose 50 per cent of recruits. It’s a time commitment,” says Gauthier.
But this year’s nine recruits seem set to stay for the time being. When asked if they planned to stay on after training, many of the heads in the room were visible nodding enthusiastically.
As the region heads into fire season, Quesnel is lucky to have so many dedicated volunteers.