Unity a key to success in fire services: president

Cory Hurley
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CORNER BROOK — Volunteer fire service members from across the province united in Corner Brook this past weekend to help develop their path to success.

The theme signifies much more than the annual Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services conference and trade show, according to president Vince MacKenzie. Unity is the reality and future of fire services.

With the changing demographics of firefighting, everything from the way fires burn, to training standards and technology is evolving along with it, said the fire chief of the Grand Falls-Windsor Fire Department.

“There are so many changes happening within fire services in the past five years that it is unprecedented,” he said Saturday, during a break in the conference held at the Pepsi Centre.

“I have seen more changes in the past five years than the previous 25, and I seems like it is coming from all angles.”

MacKenzie said it is important all stakeholders — firefighters themselves alongside provincial and municipal governments — come together to shape the future of fire services. With the expense of firefighting — including the cost of equipment and personnel — he said regionalization has been recognized as an essential component.

“One time you would say divide and conquer, but now we need to unite even more,” he said.

The president said the challenges are vast, and sometimes smaller departments in rural communities have bigger issues. Those issues are not always about fighting fires. He said an aging and shrinking population, coinciding with aging infrastructure, leaves little choice but for fire services personnel to adapt. Recruiting and retaining volunteers remain one of the biggest challenges, MacKenzie said.

“A house fire in Ramea burns the same way as it does in Corner Brook and Grand Falls-Windsor as it does in Toronto,” MacKenzie said. “It still requires the same amount of resources to deal with it.”

Massey Drive fire Chief Wayne Giles knows that all too well. Despite the substantial growth the community neighbouring Corner Brook is experiencing, he said his department continues to stay between 17-20 members. He would like to see an increase in volunteers, but said it is difficult to find the commitment needed.

“Everybody is busy, and don’t think they can find the time,” Giles said. “They can volunteer for other groups, committees, and so on in the smaller towns; but the fire department is 24-7.”

He said regionalization makes sense throughout the province, given those recruitment issues combined with the need for increased investment in resources. In a growing community like Massey Drive, where ongoing subdivisions expects to nearly double the town’s housing in the years to come, he said there will be a big need for additional resources.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services, Windsor Fire Department, Pepsi Centre

Geographic location: CORNER BROOK, Grand Falls, Ramea Toronto

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Recent comments

  • Brad Keats
    July 04, 2013 - 07:58

    Government will hopefully soon realize that, while volunteer firefighters do it because they love it, a little incentive would go a long way towards recruiting and keeping brigades strong. Just sayin.