Hats Off to Volunteer Firefighters!

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather
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When I lived in the city I never gave much thought to firefighters. I paid my taxes and knew that some of the money went towards paying for the fire service. I knew there weren’t enough female firefighters and I knew that our firefighters were well paid, as both of these topics were often covered in the local press. I got the sense that many firefighters love their job. A friend of ours in Burlington is a firefighter and he is enthralled with his work. He never switches it off. Once when we were at his house for a Bar-B-Q we suddenly heard the siren of a fire truck. He raced out to the road to watch them go by and was able to tell us where the truck was coming from and who was on it. You could tell he was wishing that he were working that day!

Our local fire station is right on the main road in town so you can’t miss noticing all of the activity that goes on there. You can see the guys training, washing trucks, drying hoses and that sort of thing. Again, I didn’t really give it too much thought. I mean what guy wouldn’t want to race around in a fire truck? Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to be the guy hanging off the back of a fire truck racing to a fire.

At some point I suddenly realized that our local firefighters are volunteers. Sure they get to drive their trucks in the Canada Day parade and blast the crowd with water guns, but they aren’t employed as firefighters. Apparently more was at play here. These are men and women who really want to help out their neighbors.

Tim Kidd owns our local video store and is a volunteer firefighter so I get the scoop on what’s happening from him. Car accidents, house fires… you name it. Recently, I asked him about their training. Basically every person on the crew can operate every piece of equipment. Since they never know who will make it to the call (i.e. who’s at work or away at any given time) they have to be able to do everything. The training is on going but the bulk of it seems to take the better part of six months, both days on the weekend when you sign up. I was thinking about doing it this winter but after the stressful time that Michelle and I have just gone through, I thought I’d wait until next year.

That’s Tim on the truck filling up the portable reservoir this past fall when there was a small electrical fire in the hardware store. Since it’s right across the street from his video store he didn’t have time to get up to the fire hall to get his gear on.

 I think there is a real sense of camaraderie within a group like volunteer firefighters and I think I’d like to be part of that. I’d like to be better prepared to help my neighbors in a crisis. I know I’d have to get my first aid skills up to speed. When you’re 4 miles from your nearest neighbor and 40 minutes from the local hospital like we are, and you spend a lot of time operating things like chain saws, some basic first aid skills would be good. You can only learn so much about applying a tourniquet to stop the bleeding of a severed artery by watching movies like “Blackhawk Down.”

 I also have a real problem with the sight of blood so I figure this might be a good way to help get over it. Regardless of what Michelle says, I didn’t almost pass out in the delivery room when our first daughter was born. The fact that Michelle’s doctor seemed more concerned about me than about Michelle is just the effect that I have on women.

I was in town last week and noticed that a house had recently burned. I asked Tim for the details. It turns out that the fire had started around 9 pm. By the time the fire department got there the house was fully engulfed. By the time the fire was out and the equipment was cleaned up Tim said it was about 5:30 a.m! So these firefighters had stayed up all night fighting this fire. And they are volunteers! They do not get paid $73,000/year like a 1st class firefighter in Toronto does. I was just reading about many fire departments have gone to extended shifts in which firefighters end up with almost as many days off as at work in any given month. This means that many supplement their income with other work. As Tim admitted “Most of us were really dragging our *sses the day following the fire.” Well I guess so!!

If I wasn’t already impressed enough with the local volunteer fire department, we recently got a rebate check from our insurance company on our house insurance. What? They’re sending me money? Turns out that the local fire department had just received their Superior Tanker Shuttle Accreditation. In a city, fighting a fire is usually pretty straightforward. Find the nearest hydrant, hook up your hoses and pump away. In the country there aren’t any hydrants to access so water is often an issue. They have a tanker truck for hauling water but at a big fire it can be used up pretty quickly. Now, as soon as they arrive at a fire some of the crew set up a portable water containment system, like a big portable swimming pool and start filling it up. As soon as it’s full the tanker heads off to the nearest pond, lake, stream, river, well or other water source to fill up and then get back to dump more water in to the reservoir. It’s a brilliant concept and obviously one that provides a better outcome for rural fires; otherwise insurance companies wouldn’t be reducing insurance rates. I’m grateful to both the local volunteers for taking the time to get accredited, and my insurance company for independently sending us a rebate without us having to ask.

So I think I’ll take a refresher first aid course this summer to get ready for next winter. I’m going to start carrying Michelle up the stairs flung over my back at least once a day to get in shape. And if at some point in the future I get to blast around in a big red fire truck with the lights flashing and the siren screaming, well, that will just be a bonus.

In the meantime, thank you to the men and women who volunteer at the Tamworth station of the Stone Mills Fire Department. I appreciate your work and I am in your debt.

Photos by Cam Mather.

 For more information about Cam Mather or his books visit www.cammather.com or www.aztext.com.