DIXONS CORNERS, ONT. — A new initiative in South Dundas is putting residents through the paces of what being a firefighter is all about, with the goal to hire new recruits along the way.
The first ever ‘Be a Firefighter for a Day” event was held on Saturday in Dixons Corners, with 20 candidates learning what it’s like to be an on-call firefighter.
“Like any small community fire department our toughest job is to recruit and retain volunteers or paid on-call firefighters,” said Cameron Morehouse, Director of Fire and Emergency Services.
“What if you called and nobody came? That’s my message for today,” he added.
Morehouse says there are vacant positions in three stations in South Dundas, (Morrisburg, Iroquois and Williamsburg), that need to be filled.
“Right now we’re down about 12 firefighters and we hope to fill that next week,” Morehouse said, adding that the idea was taken from one of the neighbouring municipalities who have seen success with the event.
Candidates were put through four drills: Auto extraction, search and rescue, ladders and pump operations.
“It’s very basic,” said Morehouse. “Rule number one for the day is to have fun. Rule number two is that this educational and learning for our participants. Rule three was no dumb questions and again four, have fun.”
South Dundas Mayor Steven Byvelds was also on the scene Saturday morning to watch the drills.
“It demonstrates exactly what’s involved and if it’s something for them to join and to do as a part-time career,” Byvelds said.
Byvelds noted that finding volunteer or on-call firefighters can be tough in rural municipalities with an older population, and younger people moving away for jobs in larger towns.
“We will have a good core of those who have stayed in South Dundas and we rely on them and others to provide the service we need to deal with the fire service in the proper way,” Byvelds said.
“It makes me feel good,” he said about the turnout. “Talking to Chief Morehouse, he said he had to turn people away so that bodes well for the future to have another day like this.”
Even with the extreme heat, Dana Crooks and Matthew St. John from Morrisburg decided to give it a shot.
“I work at a bank currently, but I’m tired of the office life so looking for a change,” said Crooks.
“It’s definitely something I’m interested in,” added St. John. “Later on hopefully in life (i’ll) become full-time.”
“Everything about volunteer firefighters, it’s helping your community, giving back and giving back to those who need help,” St. John said.
“A day like this where you can come out and see what it’s like to be a firefighter and wear all the gear, I didn’t expect any of this. So it’s better than what I thought,” he added.
“Holding the hose, it’s heavier than I thought!” said Crooks. “It’s a lot of pressure.”
“I think it’s an awesome initiative,” she added. “I’ve never done anything like this before.”
Most rural fire departments are also trying to change the stigma around the word ‘volunteer’.
“People hear the word volunteer, they think that it’s time spent or put in like coaching hockey or soccer,” Morehouse said. “We are a paid on-call fire department, so as soon as the pager goes or they get on training, education, they are paid for their time by the hour.”
“We’re not looking for heroes, we’re looking for residents,” he added. “We’re looking for auto mechanics, plumbers, electricians, teachers. Everybody brings different skills to the table, we need that because we can’t be experts in everything.”
Morehouse said if you missed the event today, another one will be held in the spring, and women are always welcome to try out.
Currently South Dundas has three active women firefighters working throughout its stations, with seven on hand Saturday going through the drills.
“We’re always looking for more,” Morehouse said. “If anybody is interested out there in becoming a volunteer, a paid on-call firefighter, please reach out to your local municipality and fire department.”
“This is a great career, it’s a great job. It’s a way to help your neighbour on their very worst day of their life.”
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