Sundridge-Strong explores plan to grow fire department

·3 min read

Sundridge-Strong Fire Chief Andrew Torrance is working on a plan to increase the size of his volunteer fire department.

Attracting and retaining volunteer firefighters is an ongoing challenge, Torrance has admitted. Recently, he started interviewing departing volunteers to better understand why they retire or resign.

Those interviews revealed to Torrance “that generally when people do retire it's because they don't have the time or energy to continue with the training mandate,” made more demanding several years ago by changes to provincial regulations.

Torrance realized for this group there is no way to “stay connected in a productive manner with the fire department,” until he learned that departments elsewhere have introduced an auxiliary component to their service.

The auxiliary would be open to former volunteer firefighters and the community at large, but conditions would apply.

“There would be training on the items they would be allowed to participate in like shuttling resources and equipment, handling radio equipment, but no 'hot zone' jobs,” Torrance explains.

A 'hot zone' job is where a trained firefighter wears a self-contained breathing apparatus responding to incidents such as a fire or motor-vehicle collision.

Torrance clarifies that although an auxiliary member wouldn't be involved in these types of functions, they would respond to the scene in a support capacity.

“So someone with a commercial (driver's) licence could be trained to drive the tanker from the station to the scene,” he says. “This is done in other places.”

Torrance says auxiliary members would not be expected to respond to run-of-the-mill calls.

But, he says, they are a bonus to the volunteers in large-scale calls “where we need all hands on deck.”

As well, because of the training auxiliary members “could also help us with public education opportunities.”

Although the concept is still being developed, Torrance has discussed the idea with former firefighters.

“I can say as many as three (retired) firefighters would join right now if the policy was endorsed,” he says. “These are people who would have loved to stay involved as volunteers earlier in time, but couldn't make the commitment like they did before.”

He says the auxiliary would keep them involved, but at a reduced capacity.

Torrance also believes there are community members who have considered becoming a volunteer firefighter but don't join because they can't make the time commitment.

He says this is where the auxiliary can help out.

“So this is an opportunity for someone who can't make the (volunteer firefighter) commitment,” he says. “They're already working, but the auxiliary helps them understand how it might fit into their lifestyle and they might realize this is something they can do.”

Torrance's long-term hope is community members who join the auxiliary might then one day take the next step and sign on as a volunteer firefighter.

The Sundridge-Strong Fire Department is set up to have 29 firefighters, but has had between 20 and 23 in recent years.

Torrance says Sundridge and Strong councils have approved the idea of an auxiliary, but what remains is their approval of the fine details of the policy, including the pay rate.

He hopes to have the final policy before both councils sometime during the second quarter of this year.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget