Fire Chief Michael Navratil says that while the Fort St. James Volunteer Fire Department currently has 33 members, there’s room for more people who are interested in joining.
“We like to have at least 30 members,” he says, adding that due to a transient population and students leaving the area to pursue further education, the department has a steady turnover of members. He also notes that it’s more difficult than it used to be for some members to leave work to attend to a fire if it happens during the day. “It used to be that employers would let them leave, but now a lot of them are being told that they can’t go.” It means that more members are needed so that there are enough people to respond when a call comes in, no matter what time of day that happens.
There are some physical and fitness requirements, and recruits have to be able to work well with others. A six-week training course, consisting of a three-hour session each Monday night and one day of hands-on exercises, introduces new members to all aspects of firefighting. There’s also a two-hour training session each Thursday night, focusing on different skills such as ladder drills, driver training, road rescues using a variety of tools, hitting hydrants, and tracking where teams are inside a building.
The department also does an annual ice rescue technician course; there are currently 12 members who have received their certification.
The junior program, which accepts students in grades 10, 11, and 12, currently has three members, but could take as many as five. While there are some limitations as to what junior members can do at a fire site, Navratil says that if there’s space in the vehicles then juniors are absolutely able to respond to calls.
However, there’s more to the fire department than responding to emergencies. Navratil notes that the department arranges tours of the fire hall for different age groups, and holds a cold weather awareness program at the high school. The fire department had a booth at the recent Night Market, and Navratil says he’d like to develop more programs to take into schools.
Last year the department held its first Tri-Services breakfast, where members of the police force, ambulance service, and search and rescue team were invited—along with their spouses and children—to come out and meet in a more relaxed setting. “We meet far too often at incidents,” says Navratil, adding that the breakfast is a way for emergency responders to meet and mingle and get to know each other in a more relaxed setting.
The new recruit training course is also a recent initiative. There have been three so far, which resulted in 24 new members for the department, and a fourth is planned for fall 2015. Navratil hopes that the course will recruit another half-dozen or so members. “We’d be really happy with eight.” He also notes that the secondary fire hall currently has eight members, but needs a minimum of ten, otherwise fire underwriters could deem the area unprotected.
A recruitment drive for new firefighters is currently underway; anyone interested in learning more can call the fire hall at (250) 996-8670, or pick up an application form at the District Office. The deadline for applications for the next training course is September 11.