The Sundridge-Strong Volunteer Fire Department may have a permanent solution to ensure there are always enough firefighters to cover weekend shifts, especially during the summer. The department has created a rotational system where each weekend, a team of one officer and three firefighters are assigned to weekend coverage from Friday night to Monday morning. A different team takes over the next weekend and another four-person team after that and so on on an ongoing continuous basis. Torrance says this doesn't mean the four individuals stay at the fire station each weekend. “They're at home or around the community doing what they do on weekends but are available for emergency responses,” Torrance said. The Fire Chief says what's great about the rotational schedule is that all the volunteer firefighters and officers came up with the solution. “So it was a collaboration,” Torrance said. Torrance says the department has been using the system on a trial basis the last several months “and found there are no delays for a truck to leave the station”. Torrance says the weekend shortage on staffing resources is one the department experienced for years and was more pronounced over the summer because people take vacations and engage in other summer activities. “But this was not a problem unique to only our department,” Torrance said. “This holds true for any volunteer, rural fire department.” However, Torrance says no fire department is designed as a five-day a week operation, it's meant to cover every day of the week. “So we were challenged to guarantee a staffing level that would provide the service required to our ratepayers,” Torrance said. The Fire Chief says an early attempt to resolve the issue involved the firefighters using an app on their cellphones and by communicating with one another, people knew who was available on a day-to-day basis and during weekends. The app told Torrance who would be there for fire calls but it still fell short somewhat on weekend and summer coverage. “At the end of 2020 we started talking to our fire department about it and discussed the challenge with all the firefighters and officers,” Torrance said. The solution became the rotational system, something Torrance says was possible because the local fire department is fortunate to have “amazing men and women”. “This is a result of their commitment and willingness to provide this service and it couldn't be done without them,” Torrance said. “I can't say that enough. This isn't possible without a very committed team. They work hard to train and prepare for an emergency response. And now they're working hard to make sure they're getting the right number of staffing out there.” He says it's that commitment from the volunteers that helps bring about innovative ways whenever the department faces challenges. “Our goal was to ensure that the service we offer to the community happens consistently without delay,” Torrance said. “So far this system has maintained that service and met our objective. It's doing exactly what we hoped it would do.” Torrance says the added benefit of the rotational system is it's flexible. He says firefighters assigned to weekend work “have the ability to cover themselves with a different firefighter to take their spot, for an hour, day or the entire weekend.” Torrance says the system has created plenty of efficiencies for the fire department and improves the volunteers' time management. “And 'time' for our firefighters is a valuable commodity,” said Torrance. Despite the fact that weekends now have a four-person team, Torrance says if there's a major emergency that needs everyone on deck, all the volunteers, if able to, respond. Our team knows that,” he said. Torrance says if necessary, the rotational system may be re-visited if it needs tweaking and he adds if changes are necessary that feedback will come from the entire fire department personnel.
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 Reporter, The North Bay Nugget