Valley Journal Advertiser
Firefighters are indispensable
The latest issue of Farm Focus has a superb spread of photos detailing the battle that Valley firefighters recently had at a barn fire in Lower Canard near Canning.
Adrian S. Johnstone, who comes from a firefighting family, captured the blaze and the successful work of some 20 fire departments from four counties.
The other day while up at the Look Off with visitors, the sound of fire alarms rang out. We looked downwards, but saw no smoke. I heard later that another barn fire had broken out, but firefighters had been able to confine the fire to an interior floor. That level of skill is amazing.
Port Williams Fire Chief Philip Porter told me that timing is critical.
In that fire near Blomidon, the flames were noticed quickly and firefighters were able to get there in time.
In October 1897, the Great Windsor Fire, aided by strong winds, raged for nearly 24 hours, reducing to ashes between 400 and 500 buildings in that historic town. It was all hands-on deck to save lives.
In late August of 1934, the Hants Journal reported on forest fires near Kennetcook where three square miles had burned despite 500 men fighting it.
Rain diminished the danger, the Clarksville correspondent noted, but “a force of men was still on the job of watching for any outbreak that might occur. As one drives over Court House Hill there can yet be seen occasional flurries of smoke rising from burning stumps and from places where the fire had penetrated deeply into the extraordinarily dry soil.”
In rural Nova Scotia the difference between then and now is phenomenal. That fact is important for key reasons due to climate change. It’s a critical improvement when wildfires break out as they did this summer in Nova Scotia. But society better values the contribution of volunteers who put out fires.
Drew Peck, a former Wolfville fire chief, wrote a tribute to one of his peers, Gerald Wood, acknowledging that “he worked hard to destroy the fallacy of equating career firefighters as professional while relegating the rest of us to be designated as just volunteers. Both career and
professional volunteer firefighters are if properly trained and led.”
Wood, who died in 2015, also laid the ground work for more equitable funding provisions for volunteer fire departments, Peck noted, so that volunteers are no longer expected to bear the costs of providing the apparatus and equipment needed to provide fire and rescue services to the public.
Volunteers in our society are generally hard to find, but we
network ought to worry when the of firefighters shrinks every year, say fire chiefs.
Based on a 2022 report of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC), of the 126,000 firefighters across this nation, an estimated 90,000 are volunteers. That’s roughly 70 per cent. A similar census in 2016 counted 126,650 volunteers out of a total 152,650.
Typically on-call at municipal fire departments outside urban Halifax, volunteer firefighters answer calls for service where structures are threatened. I’ve noticed two signs lately in Port Williams seeking new volunteers.
Porter, who stepped down to driver-operator in August, told me the signs are having a positive effect. He noted that when he joined the fire service 38 years ago, the department had 36 members. Today there are just
20. Recruits are needed.
Volunteer firefighters have full-time jobs. They have to be able to check out emergencies and training takes up regular spare time. They can also be called upon to react to medical emergencies as well.
The CAFC report detailed that out of the two million calls firefighters responded to in 2022, 44 per cent were medical.
A recent CBC report quoted Ken McMullen, chief of emergency services in Red Deer, Alta., and president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, as saying that generally departments do not have enough younger people, in the 18- to 25-year age range, joining as volunteers.
I chased more than a few fires during my reporter years and always admired the service, often under dangerous circumstances, that our firefighters gave.
In July they turned up to help during the atrocious and tragic floods in Hants County. It is true that firefighters are indispensable foot soldiers across this country.