Original Published on Aug 25, 2022 at 12:27

By Elisa Nguyen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Over the past few years, fire departments in northwestern Ontario have been losing members. In hopes of building back their roster, the Alberton, Chapple, Emo & La Vallee Fire & Emergency Services (ACEL) is now urgently recruiting volunteer firefighters — an opportunity to team up with brave individuals to help protect and serve the community.

Tyrell Griffith, ACEL fire chief, reports that significant members of the fire department have stepped away over the past 14 to 16 months. The reasons are unclear, but Griffith speculates several reasons, one being the low volume of calls due to the COVID-19 pandemic causing volunteers to lose interest, personal lifestyle changes, or the recent adjustment to training requirements — one that Griffith assures is not as scary as it seems.

In July, the Ontario Fire Marshal enforced mandatory certification to ensure that fire department members are able to respond appropriately in emergency situations.

“It’s really nothing to be scared about,” Griffith says. “It’s just ensuring that the paperwork is there to satisfy the training requirements that have always been there.”

The number of volunteers looking to be recruited varies between municipalities, however Griffith says the greatest need is in Emo, where he says he hopes to recruit around 15 volunteers.

“Then we have Chapple who would be able to handle easily 10 volunteers,” Griffith says. “Then Alberton and La Vallee, they would each be able to take between five and 10. New members would be totally, totally appreciated.”

The process to become a volunteer firefighter is simple. First, the individual fills out an application, then an interview is conducted, followed by orientation meetings to familiarize with emergency response procedures. Volunteer firefighters will also be trained and fitted with personal protective gear.

A variety of roles are available to cater to the volunteer’s individual capabilities and interests. For example, extinguishing a house fire requires many people outside the house, such as a pump operator, incident commander, or incident safety officer. Griffith explains that not everyone needs to be an interior fire attack firefighter.

“There’s also other roles like traffic control or crowd control, working with the OPP, or working with utility companies for getting the power shut off or dealing with the gas company,” Griffith says. “There’s a number of different jobs that are involved, and you don’t even have to touch a fire hose depending on what your role is.”

The fire and emergency forces can be a rewarding yet demanding job. Griffith says it’s important to show gratitude and appreciation to those who dedicate their life to the task of helping others.

“The men and women that are on the team often drop whatever they’re doing when the pager goes off and an emergency response is required,” Griffith says. “They drop whatever they’re doing — and that could be leaving food on the table at home or leaving projects or even at work— and they rush to your emergency. So it would be great to make sure that they’re acknowledged and just a little bit of gratitude sent their way.”

Follow the Alberton, Chapple, Emo & La Vallee Fire & Emergency Services on Facebook for more information.

This item reprinted with permission from the Times, Fort Frances, Ontario