Volunteer fire departments of the Cowichan Valley are most often on the frontline when an emergency occurs in smaller communities and rural areas, providing assistance to anyone in need and never for monetary reward or compensation.
That word “volunteer” is key, and departments from around the Lake and throughout the CVRD are inviting the public to join them for a gathering in Mesachie Lake in an effort to boost their numbers.
“It started a couple years ago,” said Mesachie Lake Fire Department chief Gary Eve. “We decided, the group of six CVRD fire chiefs that meet, that we needed to do something as a whole because all of us individually trying to gain people and figure out ways to retain the people we’ve got, we felt it wasn’t working so we decided to work together.”
Those departments, including Mesachie Lake, are from Youbou, Honeymoon Bay, Sahtlam, North Oyster and Malahat.
Eve said there isn’t a specific quota of new recruits they’re aiming to fill, all the departments just want to get more people in general.
“All of us could use some more numbers. Some of the bigger areas, they find it a little easier, they run a little bigger. The smaller areas like us, we have a small catchment area so we’re always interested in bringing new people in,” he said.
In Mesachie Lake, the department accepts junior firefighters who are 17 or 18, otherwise they accept anyone from 19 years old all the way up to retirement age. Successful recruits need to be in “decent physical condition” and able to pass the department’s training exercises. If someone is unable to wear the gear — which is quite heavy — and run and crawl around, for example, chances are he or she is probably not suited to be a firefighter. At least not yet.
Eve said it’s equally important that prospective members have a sense of the ideals behind the job. And an understanding of “true volunteerism.”
“We’re looking for some people who are willing to take some training, gain some new skills and join into the firefighting brotherhood and sisterhood. And just help the community,” he said. “I’ve always said this is the best job I never got paid for. That’s always been my mantra in doing what I do. I’ve been at it for 25 years now and I truly believe we have to spread the word about the positive side of what we do.”
Hosting activities like this weekend’s, which is a barbecue/open house where people can ask questions and hear firsthand accounts of being firefighters, is one way of doing that.
The event will be at the fire hall in Mesachie Lake at 9295 Carlton Rd. from 12 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17.