If you need help at 3 o’clock in the morning, they will be there for you. But it takes a special group of people to keep volunteer fire departments running.
“When you think about it, it takes a pretty special person to be able to get up at 3 in the morning to answer the page that somebody’s in trouble,” said Fire Chief at the Golden Fire Department Ken McClure. “And we’re going to come and help, and do the best that we can to help them out of that situation.”
But as a largely volunteer-based organization, the GFD cannot operate unless people in the community step up and donate their time.
“Every once in a while we need to do a hiring campaign, need to entice a few more citizens to come and help their community,” said McClure.
The department does offer some compensation to the volunteers, including an hourly wage for training time (eight hours a month), and so much per call (based on skill level). But it does not offer enough to make it a viable job option.
“You can’t use this as a job, there’s just no way. You can’t make enough money in a year,” said McClure. “It’s got to be for your community service.”
The GFD currently has 25 members, but they are hoping to increase that to at least 30. And the benefits that the department offers its members is usually enough to garner quite a bit of interest.
“We do have a pretty good bonus for joining the fire hall. What we do is give you an accidental benefit plan, which is quite inclusive, it’s very good,” said McClure. “But the skill sets that you get to learn here are tremendous, especially if you’re thinking about going full time career fire.”
There are some very good schools that train people with those same skill sets, but tuition can be around $13,000 says McClure, and that does not include any experience.
“Nowadays, when they want to hire you as a full-time firefighter in a larger city, they want a minimum of two years volunteer time. And what we will do is when you join we will sign you up to train you to the NFPA 1001, which is the standard level for acceptable firefighters. We pay for that.”
That does not mean that all firefighters at the hall are using it as a stepping stone to their future career. The department provides a very friendly environment for community involvement.
“The comradery is very very good. When you join this firehall you become part of the family. And the family looks after you. We look after each other,” said McClure.
“It’s a lot of fun. We do fire prevention for the school children. When you look at a group of Grade 3s, who are learning not to burn, and to stop drop and roll, it’s a lot of fun. Those skill sets for those children are very important for the rest of their lives… It’s huge for our community.
“We also do a juniors program… through the co-operation of the school district. We have a class that comes in and they learn all about fighting fire. They’ve done that here for quite a few years.”
And sometimes that program leads to a few students eventually joining the department. Once the GFD gets a volunteer, he or she often sticks around for awhile.
“There are times when after five or six years volunteers move onto other things. But usually, if we’ve got them for five years, we’ve got them for 10,” said McClure.
There is quite a bit of overlap between the GFD and other emergency response groups in Golden. Many volunteers donate their time to the ambulance service, and search and rescue as well. And the skills the fire department teaches are very transferable to other organizations.
“We also train people with emergency medical as well, so it’s a basic entry level for BC Ambulance. So that’s another skill set that we offer. And maybe you’re looking at the paramedic field,” said McClure.
Volunteer firefighters must commit eight hours a month to training (two hours every Tuesday evening), and carry a pager. When the pager goes off, hopefully enough people can make it.
“Daytime response for us is a challenge. We have a few people that can actually come from their jobs and go handle the situation. Most of our fire calls, if they’re not super serious, we’re usually back at work in an hour or so,” said McClure.
Anyone interested in volunteering can contact McClure at 344-6401, or stop by the fire hall at 1107 11th Avenue South.