New Brunswick volunteer fire departments are in dire need of some new recruits.
“I think there’s a sense of pride and satisfaction in doing that and in helping other people, especially when they’re in a state of vulnerability,” said volunteer firefighter Trevor McGuire, who is also a church pastor and bus driver in the small community of Millville, N.B.
The province and fire services are looking to develop ideas to help meet the challenge of recruiting and retaining volunteers, particularly in rural areas. But finding solid volunteers, at a time when people are already stretched thin, is no easy feat.
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“They think the system is working. There’s firefighters out there driving the trucks but the fact of the matter is behind that curtain, it’s a really rough game,” said Justin McGuigan, the chief of the North York Fire Department, which covers Keswick Valley and Millville.
There are more than 4,000 volunteer firefighters across New Brunswick, but when it comes down to responding to a call, only about 25 per cent are able to respond.
McGuigan says public safety needs to be paramount, whether you live in a bedroom community such as Millville or in an urban centre like Fredericton.
“You would see anywhere between 12 and 24 firefighters show up depending on the nature of the emergency. If that same call were to happen at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, you might get one or two people from each district,” he said.
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The New Brunswick Association of Fire Chiefs is lobbying both levels of government to invest in what’s called a burn unit, basically a trailer structure that can be lit on fire for training purposes.
Right now, they travel to Nova Scotia and offer similar training once per year, at a cost of $1.3 million. The association hopes to raise the funds needed so New Brunswick has a mobile unit of its own.
They’re hoping it will be an important piece of training equipment that might entice those who are on the fence to hop off and join the fight.