All for the com­mu­nity

Sherbrooke Record - - BROME COUNTY - By Matthew Mc­cully

Be­ing a fire­fighter isn’t al­ways about charg­ing into a burn­ing build­ing. Ac­cord­ing to Bed­ford Chief Ralph Gil­man, a big part of the job is stay­ing con­nected with the com­mu­nity.

“We do about 40 ac­tiv­i­ties a year for the town,” Gil­man said.

“If there’s an ac­tiv­ity, there’s usu­ally some­one from the Bed­ford Fire Depart­ment go­ing to it.”

Over the week­end the crew par­tic­i­pated in a fundraiser to help pur­chase a wheel­chair for some­one in Farn­ham. For the past three years, they have par­tic­i­pated in a bi­cy­cle rally to raise money for can­cer. Just re­cently, mem­bers of the depart­ment climbed a tower in Mon­treal in the name of mus­cu­lar dys­tro­phy.

In terms of fire ser­vices, Gil­man said Bed­ford is well known for jaws-of-life in­ter­ven­tions as well as off-road and wa­ter res­cues. The depart­ment is also one of the few that has the equip­ment re­quired for large an­i­mal res­cue. They are cur­rently work­ing on a project (along with Saint Armand, Sut­ton and Cowansville) with their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts for haz­ardous waste in­ter­ven­tions.

“They have equip­ment we haven’t even heard of,” Gil­man said, re­fer­ring to the Ver­mont depart­ment.

While fire­fight­ing is still a male-dom­i­nated pro­fes­sion, Gil­man pointed out that times are chang­ing.

“We have the most women of any depart­ment,” he said, com­par­ing Bed­ford to oth­ers in the Town­ships.

Of the 32-mem­ber team, four are women; a fifth is cur­rently in train­ing, he added.

“We say guys, even though she is one of them,” Gil­man said, re­fer­ring to a trusted depart­ment mem­ber, adding that she is usu­ally the first off the truck.

Gil­man said one of the big­gest chal­lenges faced by the depart­ment these days isn’t emer­gency calls; it’s re­cruit­ment, he said.

“We have no ap­pli­ca­tions.” Be­com­ing a fire­fighter re­quires 350 hours of train­ing and three pro­vin­cial ex­ams.

It takes about two years to get the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, Gil­man said, and that is only for the base train­ing.

The depart­ment mem­bers are con­stantly up­grad­ing.

“Wed­nes­day to Fri­day, we’ve got four fire­men do­ing a spe­cial train­ing for con­fined space res­cues,” said Gil­man.

“You have to keep your train­ing up to date,” com­mented Gil­man. Each year re­quires 25 hours of reg­u­lar ‘main­te­nance’ train­ing, and then any spe­cial­ties also re­quire up­dat­ing.

“Things are chang­ing all the time,” Gil­man said. He used the ex­am­ple of jaws-of-life in­ter­ven­tions. “Now there are more elec­tric cars,” he said, ex­plain­ing that fire­fight­ers need to know how to ap­proach a res­cue with that type of ve­hi­cle.

“It never ends. We’re try­ing to keep our fin­ger in the pie so we know what’s go­ing on,” Gil­man said, which re­quires a sub­stan­tial com­mit­ment to the depart­ment.

“We meet with the fam­ily,” Gil­man said, be­fore tak­ing on a new re­cruit. It is im­por­tant that fam­ily mem­bers rec­og­nize their loved one will be in train­ing ev­ery Tues­day or Wed­nes­day night for two years. They will then have to re­spond to around 150 calls per year, and there are at least 40 dif­fer­ent events and ac­tiv­i­ties they will be ex­pected to at­tend.

“They are ex­pected to be avail­able al­most ev­ery week­end,” Gil­man said. Not ev­ery­one is will­ing to ac­cept a sched­ule like that, and nei­ther are many spouses and fam­ily mem­bers.

It costs close to $15,000 to train a fire­fighter, ac­cord­ing to Gil­man, so the depart­ment doesn’t take on a new re­cruit with­out mak­ing sure the job is a good fit.

The cer­ti­fi­ca­tion fees to the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment are close to $4,000. A fire suit costs $2,500. Boots and gloves are $500 each, and then there are hel­mets and other ac­cou­trements to con­sider.

“They need to keep the fire­fight­ers they get,” Gil­man said, re­fer­ring to smaller mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties where re­cruit­ment is low.

“Treat us right,” he joked.

Part of the prob­lem is that there are few em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in small towns. “In Bed­ford, we still have fac­to­ries,” he said, but even so there are mem­bers com­ing to work for the depart­ment from St. Jean.

While some towns have a rule where a depart­ment mem­ber needs to be a max­i­mum of five min­utes from the sta­tion, Gil­man said if that were the case in Bed­ford, he would lose half the depart­ment.

So with all the train­ing and time com­mit­ments re­quired, what’s the pro­file of a prospec­tive fire­fighter?

“Some­one who is com­mu­ni­ty­minded,” Gil­man replied.

“You’re pro­tect­ing your friends, your neigh­bours, your kids.”

Last week­end mem­bers were rep­re­sent­ing the depart­ment in Mon­treal, show­ing off their lawn trac­tor rac­ing skills at a mon­ster truck rally. In the next few weeks there are five or six dif­fer­ent com­mu­nity fundrais­ers hap­pen­ing, Gil­man said.

“That’s all vol­un­teer,” he said, ex­plain­ing that for many of the depart­ment mem­bers, those events are a part of the job that they en­joy. “We have fun be­ing here,” com­mented Gil­man.

“When they closed the po­lice forces in all these towns, fire­men picked up the slack.”

Gil­man said there are run­ning jokes about some of the less ur­gent calls the depart­ment gets like a rac­coon hit by a car, or the stereo­typ­i­cal cat stuck up a tree.

“We go be­cause there’s no­body else to go. And we’re go­ing to keep do­ing it, be­cause that’s what we do,” he said.

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