Every community relies heavily on volunteer firefighters to respond quickly to emergencies. Although volunteer firefighters receive little monetary compensation for their efforts, it’s the rewarding experience and chance to serve the community that draws many to join.
“It is really important that member’s families understand the job. As soon as the alarm goes off at home – it’s like “who's parked behind dad’s truck?!” said Mannville Fire Department Captain Dean Gadke, who has been a firefighter for over 30 years.
“If we didn’t enjoy doing this job, we wouldn’t be here, because it’s all voluntary. Often when you are on the scene, you go into business mode, and afterward, you realize who it was or what happened. You just go there and do your job. I think if it were your own kid it would be a different story,” said Gadke.
“Sometimes you don’t realize who the people in the accident are until everything has calmed down because you might not even recognize them,” said Mannville Fire Department Training Officer, Zane Polishuk.
“There have been a few incidences where I had to go to the scene of a car wreck where there were local people I knew. One time my neighbour’s truck was in an accident, and I just thought it was stolen because I didn’t recognize that it was my neighbour’s son that was driving it. That's when it hits you the hardest. We have counseling that is available to us, and that really helps,” said Gadke.
Volunteer firefighters have to drop what they are doing in their day jobs and just go. It’s the nature of the job.
“We get paid for call outs, but in some cases when people have to leave work they don’t get paid, and they lose money because they make more money at their job. In the past we have experienced that some bosses were reluctant to let members off work to go out to calls, then all of a sudden the boss needed the fire department, and the attitude changed instantly to “you go!”
The tough calls are the ones that come in around 4:30 a.m. because I am wondering if I will have time to make it back for school,” said Polishuk, who is a high school teacher in Mannville.
It’s a huge commitment to get professional firefighter status and can take up to 40 hours to complete each course. Most take two years to complete the entire training.
Mannville Fire Chief Desmond Shubert works as a full-time firefighter for Suncor Energy in Fort McMurray. Fire Chief Shubert fought the fires in Fort McMurray this summer for six days.
“It was undoubtedly the worst fire I have ever seen in my 17 years as a firefighter. It was overwhelming, the sheer scale and size of it. It was the size and potential; when you have 150 homes on fire but you realize you could lose thousands. It was very sobering and extremely scary. Everyone was exposed heavily to smoke, and there was nowhere to get away from it. I still feel the effects with coughing. My lungs don’t cope as well as they did before if I go to another fire now,” said Shubert. “It didn’t hit the mindset of people for decades that these kinds of fires can occur, but now it is becoming a reality that this can happen, and construction is changing to adapt to the environment we live in.”