A lucrative benefits package has been rolled out to help struggling fire departments in the Elk Valley and South Country attract more volunteers.
There are currently about 55 volunteer firefighters registered with the four departments in Jaffray, Baynes Lake, Elko and Hosmer, about 40 per cent of whom are women.
Elk Valley and South Country Rural Fire & Rescue Service Fire Chief Dave Boreen hopes to recruit another 30 people to help his teams respond to the more than 200 call-outs they receive each year.
“It’s good for their community, everybody always wants to do something for their community,” he said.
“Rather than relying on 10 people to protect their community from a fire or wildlife, they learn something that helps them at home, it helps them in their careers.
“We teach them first aid, we teach them fire prevention, we teach them firefighting techniques.
“Although we say we’re a volunteer fire service, they’re not volunteer, we pay our guys, we pay them a rate per hour for training… And when you come out at 3 a.m. to go on a first responder call for your neighbour having chest pains, you get paid for doing that.”
The Regional District of East Kootenay has introduced a lucrative benefits package to help to attract more volunteer firefighters to its eight fire departments – Edgewater, Panorama, Windermere, Fairmont, Jaffray, Baynes Lake, Elko and Hosmer.
The packages includes benefits such as life insurance, extended health and dental, and comes at a cost of approximately $140,000 a year to taxpayers.
“We’re the first eight departments here through the regional district, we’re really proud of that,” said Boreen.
He said the service was having some success recruiting new volunteers since the rollout of the benefits package on March 1.
“We’re getting a lot of great feedback from the guys,” he said.
“It really helps the guys who are retired or semi-retired and that’s part of our group here… and self-employed people who don’t have insurance through their employer… that’s a real big bonus for them.”
In the past, the departments have had difficulty recruiting and retaining volunteers.
Boreen put this down to the increased responsibility placed on volunteers who are trained to exterior and interior firefighting levels.
“In a sense, it’s harder on the volunteers, it takes more time out of their lives and they have to show more responsibility towards that training but at the end of the day it’s better for them because it keeps everybody safe, and we can work more efficiently when we’re safe,” he said.
“Fire is an inherently dangerous occupation and it’s not the same old days when you have your bucket brigade and everybody running out with garden hoses, and buckets, times have changed.
“The fires act differently now to what they used to in the ’50s and ’60s… A fire would take a long time to get into an increased stage but now, with the modern building materials and furniture people put inside their houses, those fires get rocking very quickly.
“It’s a lot more dangerous, things happen more quickly so the guys have to understand the building construction and fire behaviour so they can stay safe.”
To volunteer, recruits must be at least 18 years of age, have a certificate of health from their doctor and valid B.C. driver’s licence, and undergo a criminal record check, among other criteria.
Anyone interested in volunteering is encouraged to contact their local RDEK fire department or the RDEK’s Cranbrook office at 250-489-2791.