There are many ways to volunteer. Some people deliver Meals on Wheels; others teach English to newcomers; still others coach youth sports. The list goes on and on.
But there are a few volunteer situations that are more demanding than the others. You might call it “extreme volunteering.” One of them is that of serving as a volunteer firefighter.
An astounding 80 per cent of Alberta’s firefighters are volunteers, and 97 per cent of the province’s fire departments are run by volunteers – more than 450 such departments in all.
These are people who have other vocations. As the Alberta Volunteer Firefighters website (http://www.albertavolunteerfirefighters.ca) indicates, they work as mechanics, cattle ranchers, construction workers and business owners, to name just a few. When a fire or other emergency happens, they answer the call to serve their communities. It’s not an easy task, especially considering some of them might have already worked a full shift at their regular job when they’re called to respond to a fire. Or they might battle an overnight blaze and then have to go to work from there. As longtime Coaldale Fire Chief Andy Van Rijn noted a few years ago, volunteer fighters can’t just say, “I’m booking off work.”
Volunteer firefighters also give up some of their personal time and time with their families in order to train and maintain equipment.
It’s a demanding and potentially hazardous calling, and perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that recruitment is an ongoing challenge for volunteer fire departments, not just in Alberta but across the continent. But volunteer fire departments are an essential part of rural communities which simply don’t have the financial resources to support a full-time fire brigade. They are needed for dispatch, fighting fires and administrative support in their communities.
It’s with that in mind that the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association (AFCA) has undertaken “Answer the Call 2015,” a provincewide campaign that encourages Albertans make firefighting a part of their daily lives. As part of the campaign, fire halls across Alberta are hosting recruitment and appreciation events this week.
“Most local fire halls are constantly looking to recruit new members and it’s a challenge,” Bill Purdy, executive director of the AFCA, said in a news release.
Besides recruiting, the campaign is also honouring those who selflessly serve their communities as volunteer firefighters. To be sure, it’s a major commitment and a sacrifice, but they do it because they love their communities and feel strongly about giving back. They are unsung heroes.
Also deserving of thanks are the employers who make it possible for volunteer firefighters to do their jobs. Many of them make special allowances for employees who serve as firefighters to help them in performing their community service.
The families of the firefighters should be thanked, too, for the sacrifice they make of having less time to spend with their loved ones who serve on volunteer fire departments.
The role of volunteer firefighters is one that’s vital to smaller communities throughout Alberta and across the country. As Purdy noted, “There is a need for firefighters and there will always be a need for firefighters.”
Those who live in rural communities hope there will always be people willing to answer the call.