As Saskatchewan continues to grow, some communities are struggling to recruit more firefighters for their volunteer departments.
“There are definitely pockets of the province where it’s harder to get people. The community is either starting to suffer from economic downturn, so people are moving away, so when you don’t have people in the community it’s hard to get the volunteers,” Doug Lapchuk, Saskatchewan Volunteer Firefighter’s Association president, said.
Balgonie’s volunteer fire department, which responds to more than 100 calls a year, has recently lost six members of its 32-person force.
“People’s jobs change, they retire, their life interests change, they end up having kids, anything like that,” Lapchuk said.
McLean, Sask., is also struggling to keep enough members committed to its volunteer force.
“It’s just everyday life. People have families that have kids in sports and stuff, so getting people to commit to meetings,” McLean fire Chief Kevin Witkowski said. “And we don’t have a lot of fires out here or a lot of calls, so guys get in a lull and don’t show up.”
Witkowski is hoping to add another four members to his current 16-person team.
“You’re just putting your members at risk if you’ve got a member that goes down or gets hurt or something and you don’t have enough guys to respond,” he said.
Balgonie is holding a recruitment drive in March to help attract more volunteers.
Volunteers must be over 18 years old, and it’s best if they live within a reasonable response time to the fire hall, Lapchuk said.
“We welcome mothers, fathers, teachers, you can be a rocket scientist or you can be a farmer, any side of the spectrum, as long as you’re willing to come and train, we’ll teach you the safest possible way to do the job that we do,” he said.
If local fire departments can’t get enough volunteers locally, they have to pull from neighbouring communities, which adds precious minutes to their response times, Lapchuk said.