Going it alone
Brigus fire department holding its own in face of aging membership; decline in volunteers
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.”