When Shelley Vaness moved to Hosmer 27 years ago, one of the first things she did was sign up with her local volunteer fire department.
In doing so she gained not only new skills but an extended family.
“It is a very big family and we enjoy each other’s company,” said Vaness.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie that comes with it and there’s a sense of satisfaction that you’re doing everything you can for your community.
“Plus we’re learning some very valuable lessons, some very valuable tools that we can use not only through the fire service but at our homes with our children, at our jobs. There are many things that we learn that we can transfer, fire safety-wise.”
Vaness is a captain at the Hosmer Fire Department, one of four departments operated by the Regional District of East Kootenay in the Elk Valley and South Country.
There have been many changes at Hosmer since Vaness joined the service 27 years ago, but not all are positive.
“We have rebuilt part of the fire hall, we have bought new equipment, we’re under a new training program,” she said.
“The only downside of the changes is the fact that we’ve lost too many members.”
At Hosmer, there are only nine people on the roster when the ideal number is 15 or more.
Other RDEK fire departments are facing the same challenge and have been forced to rely on mutual aid agreements when responding to incidents.
Vaness said the lack of volunteers made it difficult at times.
“Our responses are good, they could be better, better timed with more people available,” she said.
“Our tactics have to change depending on the number of personnel we have. We also fortunately have mutual aid agreements with other local departments, so that helps us to make our response more effective.”
In a bid to attract more volunteers, the RDEK recently introduced a benefits package for firefighters that includes life insurance, extended health, dental and an employee assistance program.
Vaness hopes to get the word out about the benefits, which come on top of free training and a pay package for training and call outs.
She encouraged others to consider joining the department.
“First and foremost to be part of your community. Instead of just living in a community you’re actually being active with the community and getting involved with the community,” she said.
“It allows you to get to know some of your neighbours that you wouldn’t otherwise know and the training that we get and the way we work together, you can take that away to your other job or to your home or to your neighbours and family to make things that much safer for them,” she said.
“The pay package isn’t great but it’s there, so if you do have to take a little bit of time off work for an incident you’re compensated for it.
“The benefit package is a definite bonus because there are a lot of jobs out there that don’t have extended medical.”
Hosmer volunteer firefighters are expected to attend at least one training session a month, held on Tuesday evenings, and respond to as many calls as possible.
Vaness works full-time at Canadian Tire, while her colleagues also juggle jobs with volunteering.
Anyone who is interested in joining the Hosmer fire department is invited to attend training on Tuesday, which runs from 7 p.m. until about 9-9:30 p.m.
“Come out and see what we do, see if it’s something you’d like to do or even somehow from the sidelines, help support us,” said Vaness.
“The more members we have, the more we can do, the more we can help you.”