The Hamilton Spectator

Fire department struggling to attract volunteers


Chief Dave Cunliffe says the Hamilton Fire Department is having a difficult time attracting and retaining volunteer firefighte­rs.

“It is not something (in which) we are alone,” Cunliffe told councillor­s during a recent budget meeting. “It’s happening all over the province.”

In 2021, the Hamilton service recruited 48 volunteer firefighte­rs, while in 2022, it added 31. He said there are over 40 vacancies in nine stations across the city, predominat­ely in rural and suburban areas. Cunliffe said volunteers go through the same vigorous training as full-time firefighte­rs as they are required to meet National Fire Protection Associatio­n standards, but they also hold down full-time jobs, which can suffer when they are required to respond at a moment’s notice.

The 10-year fire service plan has identified boosting the volunteer compliment from 25 to 40 positions from 2021 to 2027 over eight stations, including Binbrook, Mount Hope, Ancaster, Waterdown, Greensvill­e, Lynden, Rockton and Freelton.

In Winona, the plan includes transition­ing to a composite fire service with five full-time staff for a 24-hour, seven-day-aweek service. By 2024, it is projected to have 15 full-time staff. The budget allocates $1.75 million in 2023 and $1.6 million in 2024.

The plan also includes renovating the Binbrook station that will have a composite staff providing 24-7 service by 2026. The budget allocates $1.1 million in 2023 and 2024 in capital costs for the renos, and $1.5 million in 2024 and $1.6 million in 2026 for staff and equipment.

Cunliffe said as Hamilton continues to grow, the fire service needs to adjust to the changing demographi­cs from a predominat­ely rural area to a bedroom community. He said staff are in the community actively recruiting people to join the service.

Councillor­s have approved the 2023 capital budget, and are scheduled to discuss the operating budget throughout February.

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