Recruiting to ever-evolving fire service poses unique challenges in the NWT

Recruiting to ever-evolving fire service poses unique challenges in the NWT
Events such as the open house at the Yellowknife Fire Department on Oct. 3 are designed in part to promote the service to potential volunteers, current or future, like Isaiah Foss, 6, who got a giant hug from YKFD mascot Sparky.Photo: Michele Taylor

The work of a fire marshal is never done. It includes responsibility for investigating fires, overseeing fire prevention efforts, enforcing fire safety regulations for buildings and fire service training.

Municipalities in the NWT are not legally required to have fire departments but those that do are subject to strict regulation and receive funding to help stay up-to-date. Fighting fires is a tough job that is constantly evolving, and finding and retaining volunteers is a challenge, especially in smaller communities.

“It’s a constantly moving target,” NWT Fire Marshall Chucker Dewar said. “Thirty years ago if you had a fire hat, a jacket and an extinguisher, you were a firefighter. It’s not like that anymore. Times change and we need to evolve.”

Isaiah Foss, 6, got a giant hug from YKFD mascot Sparky.

Photo: Photo: Michele Taylor

Isaiah Foss, 6, got a giant hug from YKFD mascot Sparky.

To do so the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) has developed a toolkit to help local fire departments recruit and retain the bravest among us with resources to help with selection, orientation, training, retention and evaluation.

“It takes a certain breed of individual,” Dewar said. “You have to be physically fit and adapted to the Northern climate. With upwards of eight months of winter, the NWT is a difficult place to conduct fire operations.”

With the efforts of groups like the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, the mental health effects for first responders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are starting to get the attention they deserve. The Tema Trust as it is also known has become Canada’s leading provider of peer-support, family assistance, and training for public safety and military personnel dealing with operational stress with its Heroes are Human campaign.

Last week it was reported eight of the 15 paramedics who responded to the fatal collision that killed a grandfather and his three grandchildren in Ontario Sept. 27 have taken time off to seek help for PTSD. Already in 2015, 30 first responders and eight military members have died by suicide.

“Right across Canada there are challenges recruiting volunteers,” Dewar said. “There are a lot of organizations competing for the same volunteers. Yellowknife has challenges retaining and they have a full-time and paid on-call service. It is extremely challenging in smaller communities. Recruitment is an ongoing, continuous endeavour.”

Dewar said that despite the challenging nature of the work or maybe because of it, being a firefighter is a rewarding experience.

“As fire marshal I encourage all NWT residents to get involved in the fire service,” he said. “There are a lot of benefits – community pride, comradeship both with the local fire department and as part of a larger community across the country, and there is potential for those with career aspirations as well.”

He said MACA offers an extensive list of fire service educational opportunities (certified and non-certified) available to all NWT communities through the MACA School of Community Government.

There is a range of other positions available in any fire service, too: the department needs more than firefighters to operate, including communications and desk work.

“There is a place for anybody in the fire service,” Dewar said. “It takes everyone in the community to have a successful fire department.”

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