Fire­fight­ers and First Re­spon­ders in Austin, TBL and Sut­ton

Sherbrooke Record - - BROME COUNTY - By Ann David­son

Some­one once said that Fire­fight­ers and First Re­spon­ders are “in­dis­pens­able foot sol­diers here at home”. They risk their lives ev­ery­day and man­i­fest the epit­ome of self­less­ness in this no­ble call­ing.

Ask any fire­fighter or first re­spon­der what it is that calls them to these emer­gen­cies and the unan­i­mous re­sponse is “I love my com­mu­nity and want to help.” It’s not about the money. Rather, they say that it is about the com­mon mis­sion to en­sure safety and health as well as the “co­ma­raderie” that bonds their team.

For out­siders it may seem like a glam­ourous job to as­sume. How­ever, in ru­ral parts where vol­un­teers have al­ways been the back­bone to com­mu­ni­ties, be­ing a fire­fighter or first re­spon­der means more than reach­ing out at the mo­ment of cri­sis. It is all about ded­i­ca­tion, com­mit­ment, pre­pared­ness, and sac­ri­fice. It’s also about hav­ing the courage to keep do­ing what they do even af­ter wit­ness­ing the most hor­rific sit­u­a­tions.

In talk­ing to both Don Mir­reault, di­rec­tor of the Tbl/sut­ton Fire Depart­ments as well as Paul Ro­bitaille, the days when any­one can sim­ply rush to the emer­gency call to help out are gone. In Que­bec, since 2008 when Law 108 was passed, all mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties must have ad­e­quate fire pro­tec­tion. That means that per­son­nel must be trained and have proper cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in or­der to qual­ify for ser­vice. Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties must be pre­pared to un­der­take preven­tion pro­grams and re­spond to smoke, floods and fire, road ac­ci­dents, ice and wa­ter res­cues, han­dling of dan­ger­ous ma­te­ri­als and also un­der­take re­search to de­ter­mine the cause of fires. In these parts, sav­ing live­stock is also an is­sue. In Brome Lake, a pro­gram was started to help fire­fight­ers iden­tify where do­mes­tic pets live so that they too can be saved. Fire­fight­ers also must en­sure that the mil­lions of dol­lars in equip­ment is kept in metic­u­lous op­er­at­ing or­der.

When most vol­un­teers are al­ready em­ployed in full-time jobs, it means that there needs to be an agree­ment with the em­ployer to be able to leave the work­place when there is an emer­gency. It also means that many hours of time away from fam­ily and other per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties is a premium. Plans can be in­ter­rupted in a blink. When they are on call, they are not per­mit­ted to use al­co­hol or other recre­ational stim­u­lants.

Even though most mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties pay for the reg­is­tra­tion costs of the train­ing pro­grams there are a lot of hours to put in. The ba­sic en­try course for a fire­fighter takes over 300 hours. Ad­di­tional mod­ules for lad­der truck, pump truck, ve­hi­cle ex­tri­ca­tion, forestry res­cue, ice res­cue, wa­ter res­cue can re­quire any­where from 30 to 45 hours ex­tra for each. And then it takes an ad­di­tional 150 hours to be­come an of­fi­cer. Prac­tices and sim­u­la­tions are a ma­jor part of the pro­grams. They are un­der­taken on a rou­tine ba­sis; some­times bi-weekly, oth­ers monthly and oth­ers sev­eral times yearly. To be­come a first re­spon­der one must take a 45-hour course. To main­tain that cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, par­tic­i­pants must fol­low a re­fresher course ev­ery three months. Ro­bitaille started as a vol­un­teer 39 years ago. In 1996 he be­came di­rec­tor and now heads up a 35-per­son team as a full-time em­ployee of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Austin. Some of his 16 first re­spon­ders dou­ble as fire­fight­ers. “It wasn’t easy,” ex­plained Ro­bitaille. “It took five years go­ing to school part-time to be­come prop­erly cer­ti­fied. But I like what I am do­ing.”

Many Town­ships mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are small and op­er­ate on bud­gets that sim­ply can­not af­ford their own equip­ment. That’s why mu­tual aid agree­ments are made be­tween those that have equip­ment and man­power and those that don’t. Dis­tances are an is­sue when it comes to an emer­gency. Wa­ter re­sources are not al­ways read­ily avail­able. Hence the call to other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to come with their pumps and tankers. While Man­sonville is cus­to­dian of a $50,000 jaws-of- life, Austin has a boat. The towns call upon those ser­vices be­tween each other when needed.

Ross Clark­son is work­ing full time for TBL as an of­fi­cer in the fire depart­ment. He says that lot goes on be­hind the scenes that cit­i­zens are not aware of. For in­stance, we rec­og­nize when homes need fire de­tec­tors and they can’t af­ford one. We make sure to give them to the home own­ers.

Town of Brome Lake

Af­ter 42 years of ser­vice to the com­mu­nity of Brome Lake, Pierre La­plante hung up his hat as Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Se­cu­rity a year ago. His sense of duty con­tin­ues as he serves as a vol­un­teer First Re­spon­der. In a move to cut ad­min­is­tra­tive costs the two di­rec­tor gen­er­als of Sut­ton and TBL came up with a plan to share the po­si­tion of Di­rec­tor. Don Mir­reault is al­most half-way through the two-year trial pe­riod of this plan. He is pleased with how well the ar­range­ment is work­ing. “Morale be­tween the two mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties is way higher that ex­pec­ta­tion. It’s go­ing so well with the two merged depart­ments. We are train­ing to­gether and our pro­to­cols are in sync. It’s been a re­ally nice project.”

Mir­reault knew that there would be some chal­lenges but has been sur­prised that the tran­si­tion has gone so smoothly. He says that the key to suc­cess has been in the del­e­ga­tion of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Owner of an elec­tri­cal com­pany, Mir­reault says that he loves his job as di­rec­tor. “Fire­fight­ing is my pas­sion. It has be­come my down time. It’s a lot of fun for me” Adding that his of­fi­cers all have their spe­cific re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­clud­ing prepa­ra­tion of all the prac­tices, Mir­reault says that the size of the two towns is al­most the same and that amaz­ingly each av­er­aged about 300 calls last year.

Of­fi­cer for the TBL Fire Depart­ment, Ross Clark­son, says that each per­son re­acts dif­fer­ently to dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions. “Some han­dle things bet­ter than oth­ers. We have our col­leagues and fam­i­lies to talk to, the CLSC of­fers coun­selling ser­vices and we are cov­ered by CSST when we need sup­port in the after­math of a dif­fi­cult event that we take care of. “If you don’t talk about it, it will eat you up.”

Be­ing a vol­un­teer fire­man af­fects their fam­i­lies and to­gether they ac­cept it. “When we have to leave a fam­ily func­tion or can­cel plans it can be up­set­ting. No mat­ter where we go, there are

spe­cific things that we have to have ready to take with us like our pagers and ra­dios, just in case. It’s all about the mind­set. Our per­sonal stuff has to be with us,” said Clark­son. An­other as­pect is that when they are on call, they are tied to be­ing in town and not away. They are not paid for the time that they are re­stricted in lo­ca­tion or ac­tiv­ity. “Our mem­bers don’t get paid for be­ing avail­able. There are so many times we have to stick around be­cause there “might” be an emer­gency.”

Alan Bow­brick is op­er­a­tions man­ager for TBL’S First Re­spon­ders. He ex­plained that they usu­ally get more calls than the fire depart­ment but tend to fly under the radar a lot more. They are less vis­i­ble when it comes to re­spond­ing to emer­gen­cies. Slid­ing into drive­ways qui­etly in the mid­dle of the night is not an in­fre­quent ac­tiv­ity for first re­spon­ders.

Al­though I have back ups, I am of­fi­cially on the pay­roll 12 hours per week I am on call 24-hours --a-day, seven-days-a-week. Shut­ter­ing at the thought of man­ag­ing a sit­u­a­tion such as Humbolt, Saskatchewan, which is a town with a sim­i­lar pop­u­la­tion, Clark­son can’t imag­ine hav­ing to deal with it. He says that he sin­cerely hopes he would never have to but we do have the man­power and train­ing to han­dle a mass ca­su­alty. The re­al­ity is the prac­tice is never the way re­al­ity is and there would be a cer­tain level of chaos to man­age. “We never re­ally want to ever have to use our train­ing for that.”

In gen­eral terms, Bow­brick would like more re­cruits. With ab­sences ow­ing to ill­ness and va­ca­tions we are spread a bit thin but we are ok and are plan­ning more train­ing. They re­sponded to 486 calls last year mak­ing it roughly 1.3 in­ter­ven­tions per day. “This year we are a lit­tle bit down with about 30 to 35 calls monthly, 55 traf­fic ac­ci­dents in Brome Lake last year,” re­mark­ing that West Brome had 14 ac­ci­dents that hap­pened be­tween 3 and 5 pm. He won­ders why this pat­tern is show­ing up and would like to look far­ther into it. But we don’t do the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, he added.” We are all about the im­me­di­ate in­ter­ven­tion and the peo­ple in­volved.”

The longer you are there, you carry bag­gage. You re­mem­ber the calls. I have five calls that stick in my head. I don’t dwell on them but the mem­o­ries are there. I keep do­ing it be­cause I just want to help my com­mu­nity and stay in­volved. My team is my other fam­ily and so are the fire­fight­ers.

Austin

The proud­est mo­ments come when lives are saved. Hap­pi­est mo­ments are when they ar­rive at the call to find it was a false alarm. ““It’s not a false alarm un­til we get there and when we find out it is, it is sat­is­fy­ing to know that ev­ery­thing is ok. If we would not re­spond, it would be ter­ri­ble if some­thing ac­tu­ally hap­pened!” said veteran fire­fighter for 30 years, Robert St. Pierre who does dou­ble duty be­tween Pot­ton and Austin fire depart­ments.

“We learn to com­mu­ni­cate mak­ing sure that when the masks and ra­dio are on, we want to make sure that ev­ery­one is clear on what is go­ing on, what the sit­u­a­tion is, what the plan of ac­tion is. When ev­ery­one is in an adrenalin rush, it is re­ally im­por­tant for com­mu­ni­ca­tion to be con­cise. We need to be able to read how our part­ners are re­act­ing to the sit­u­a­tion as well. That’s why we speak with codes such as 10-01 (I’m lis­ten­ing) 10 -17 (I’ve just ar­rived), 10-34 (the am­bu­lance ar­riv­ing.), ex­plained Robert St. Pierre. He ad­mits that he loves help­ing the com­mu­nity but also likes the thrill. Al­ways ea­ger to learn more, he spends a lot of time tak­ing new cour­ses. He and a cou­ple of his con­fr­eres are head­ing to In­di­anapo­lis where 2500 fire­fight­ers from all over North Amer­ica will be at­tend­ing the Fire Depart­ment In­struc­tor Con­ven­tion to do spe­cial train­ing while de­mol­ish­ing a large area of build­ings near the city. He has been to these con­ven­tions a cou­ple of times and laments the cost. This one will be ($ 1,500 each) and the funds come out of our per­sonal cof­fers. He says that he is also look­ing for­ward to a few smaller train­ing pro­grams be­ing of­fered in Ver­mont. One is about how to deal with the new elec­tric ve­hi­cles that would be in ac­ci­dents.

Dave Cormier is an of­fi­cer under Ro­bitaille. He works for the town, lives in the town and vol­un­teers for the town and says that the fire depart­ment for them is a way of this town’s life. “There is a lot of self­sat­is­fac­tion in what we do.” He has been a fire­man for 23 years and re­tired his du­ties as a first re­spon­der a cou­ple of years ago. He ad­mits that deal­ing with the tough stuff is part of the job. We carry it for the rest of our lives. The in­ter­ven­tions with peo­ple all around who know the vic­tims makes it even harder be­cause you feel their pain. “I found that the first re­spon­ders was too much. The cour­ses, the emo­tional im­pact, the time away on top of the fires. I have con­sid­ered go­ing back to it but I not ready to do more at this point and am happy be­ing a fire­fighter.”

Ev­ery­one who crosses the thresh­old of the Marché Austin knows Brigitte Cyr. She is the man­ager of the store and is also the of­fi­cer in charge of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s first re­spon­ders. Also qual­i­fied as a fire­fighter, Cyr says that she loves the med­i­cal as­pect of the in­ter­ven­tions that she has been do­ing since the ser­vice was es­tab­lished in 2001. In­ter­est­ingly, she says that she would never want to be a nurse or doc­tor, but be­ing a para­medic is per­fect for her. She, like all the oth­ers who are in­volved, has a mas­sive drive to help peo­ple and her com­mu­nity. Cyr says that about 75 per cent of the calls are for first re­spon­ders. Ro­bitaille quoted 468 emer­gency calls last year with only about 11 that were false alarms.

It’s not all work for any of these peo­ple. When they are not res­cu­ing, they con­tinue to give back to their com­mu­ni­ties. They are al­ways present at main events such as Canada Day and Fêtes Na­tional, spe­cial pa­rades. TBL’S first re­spon­ders get to Tour de Lac Brome and Brome Fair too. And the TBL Fire­man’s As­so­ci­a­tion cou­ples with the First Re­spon­ders for a mas­sive an­nual BBQ that tar­gets the needs of the com­mu­nity. Last year over 400 peo­ple at­tended.

As for­mer MNA, Robert Benoit once said, “Thirty-five years since the late Arthur Bryant founded the fire depart­ment we find our fire­fight­ers and first re­spon­ders are men and women who vol­un­tar­ily con­trib­ute with gen­eros­ity, courage and pro­fes­sion­al­ism, to pro­tect our as­sets and, in an emer­gency, our health."

COUR­TESY

TBL First Re­spon­ders gather to­gether for a for­mal shot of the cur­rent team.

ANN DAVID­SON

Last sum­mer, af­ter a life­long ca­reer, at his re­tire­ment, TBL’S Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Se­cu­rity, Pierre La­plante, handed over the reins to Sut­ton’s Don Mir­reault who now over­sees both mu­nic­i­pal fire depart­ments. La­plante re­mains a vol­un­teer for TBL’S first re­spon­ders.

COUR­TESY

(COUR­TESY)

Dun­ham-may 2015 The older wood frame struc­tures are of­ten vul­ner­a­ble to fire. This house in Dun­ham was razed to the ground as a re­sult of a grass fire that ran away in mere min­utes.

ANN DAVID­SON

Fire­fight­ers in Austin were called to deal with a garbage truck that ran into trouble when com­bustible con­tents had ig­nited.

(COUR­TESY)

Alan Bow­brick is op­er­a­tions man­ager for the TBL First Re­spon­ders and says that even though he is paid for 12 hours to man­age the ad­min­is­tra­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity, he, along with the 31 mem­bers of his team are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

(COUR­TESY)

TBL fire­fight­ers make a point of go­ing to the two el­e­men­tary schools to teach fire safety to the stu­dents. The win­ner of a con­test that they or­ga­nize gets to be “Fire­man for the day”.

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