Go­ing it alone

Bri­gus fire depart­ment hold­ing its own in face of ag­ing mem­ber­ship; de­cline in vol­un­teers

The Compass - - OPINION - BY BUR­TON K. JANES

Like other vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tions, the Bri­gus Fire Depart­ment is fac­ing its share of chal­lenges. The av­er­age age of its mem­ber­ship, for ex­am­ple, is clos­ing in on 50, and there’s hardly a lineup of fresh can­di­dates wait­ing in the wings to don a bunker suit and breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus.

But don’t get the idea the bri­gade is on shaky ground. In fact, the op­po­site is true. The bri­gade is well-equipped and is flush with cash from very lu­cra­tive fund-rais­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

“ We are no bur­den to our com­mu­nity, to our tax­pay­ers, be­cause we are one of the best bri­gades on the is­land be­cause of our fi­nances,” fire chief Rod­ney Mercer stated re­cently. “ We watch what we spend and we do a fair bit of fund-rais­ing.”

More than 200 fire­fight­ers and guests — a ca­pac­ity crowd — gath­ered at the Bri­gus Le­gion on Oct. 23 for the an­nual fire­men’s ball.

It was the depart­ment’s first such gath­er­ing since the of­fi­cial open­ing of the Bay de Grave Re­gional Fire Depart­ment ear­lier this year. The new re­gional bri­gade serves the neigh­bour­ing com­mu­ni­ties of Clarke’s Beach, Cupids, Makin­sons, North River and South River.

An ob­vi­ous ques­tion is: why didn’t Bri­gus merge with this new bri­gade?

Firstly, Mercer said, it wasn’t asked, and se­condly, there was no need.

“ We are so well off fi­nan­cially, we can look af­ter our own com­mu­nity,” he stated. The Bri­gus bri­gade also serves the lo­cal ser­vice district of Roaches Line.

Mayor By­ron Rodway echoed the chief ’s re­marks, com­ment­ing that “the Bay de Grave fire depart­ment is a won­der­ful thing. It’s re­gion­al­iza­tion and, right now, re­gion­al­iza­tion is all about ways of sav­ing money. How­ever, our fire depart­ment has not been a big bur­den on the tax­pay­ers.”

He s a i d tha t , “ had we been ap­proached, I think we would have wanted to main­tain our own fire depart­ment, at least for the time be­ing.”

Mercer was quick to add that he has no fear of govern­ment re­fus­ing to sup­port equip­ment pur­chases in the fu­ture be­cause Bri­gus con­tin­ues to be an in­de­pen­dent en­tity.

“ The fire com­mis­sioner or govern­ment hasn’t men­tioned any­thing,” he said. “It’s just that they are hop­ing to see more com­mu­ni­ties merg­ing. But in Bri­gus we al­ready have ev­ery­thing we want.”

Rodway sug­gested, “I wouldn’t be sur­prised if, in time to come, govern­ment will only be putting money into re­gional ser­vices such as Bay de Grave, but that’s a long way in the fu­ture.”

The mayor of­fered an ad­di­tional per­spec­tive: “ Bri­gus has about 500 house­holds, but about 135 of those be­long to sea­sonal res­i­dents. A lot of things have gone out of the com­mu­nity and, right now, I re­ally feel we need to hang on to our fire hall and fire depart­ment for as long as pos­si­ble.”

Mercer re­ported a to­tal of 23 mem­bers in the bri­gade, with new mem­bers re­cruited re­cently. Two are around 20, and a third is about 28. The chief threw out an in­vi­ta­tion for ad­di­tional mem­bers, stressing “it doesn’t have to be all men. Some women can join, too.”

The av­er­age age of mem­bers is 4548, Mercer in­di­cated. He him­self is 42 and will be cel­e­brat­ing 25 years with the bri­gade next year.

Rodway, who has given al­most three decades of ser­vice, com­mented, “ We do have an ag­ing fire depart­ment. Train­ing stan­dards are much higher now and, to be fair with you, once you get up in your late 50s, it’s prob­a­bly time to move on.”

The bri­gade plays a sig­nif­i­cant role dur­ing the an­nual Blue­berry Fes­ti­val in Bri­gus, in­clud­ing as­sist­ing with se­cu­rity. The event then be­comes the bri­gade’s biggest fundraiser of the year as it mans the con­ces­sion beer booth. The funds raised are then chan­neled back into im­prove­ments to the ser­vice the bri­gade pro­vides res­i­dents.

“Per­son­ally, what I like about it is help­ing some­body,” Mercer said. “The morale among mem­bers is boosted when mem­bers who have been with the bri­gade for 40 or more years want to see it keep go­ing for an­other 40 years. They got lots of en­ergy.”

Dur­ing the past year, the depart­ment re­sponded to 15 calls, in­clud­ing elec­tri­cal, chim­ney and fat fires.

Not un­like other bri­gades in the prov­ince, the Bri­gus con­tin­gent was un­usu­ally busy dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Igor in Septem­ber.

“ We went to the town man­ager and asked him what he wanted done,” Mercer said. “ We got some fire­men down there and we pumped out a few base­ments and cleaned up the roads so the traf­fic could go through. Any­thing we could do, that’s what we were there for.”

Dur­ing th e event, 25-year - ser­vice medals were pre­sented to Tony Pritchard, Shears Mercer Jr., Wil­liam King and David Piercey.

Mar­i­lyn Sprack­lin of the ladies’ aux­il­iary pre­sented the chief with a $ 500 do­na­tion on be­half of her group.

In­ci­den­tally, what hap­pens if a fire breaks out in Bri­gus dur­ing a fireper­son’s ball?

The an­swer is quite sim­ple, said Rodway: “Nor­mally, the Bay de Grave fire depart­ment is on standby. That’s a nor­mal agree­ment that when they have their func­tions, we cover for them and, when we have our func­tions, they cover for us.”

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