By Peter Sells
In my previous blog, I discussed how the Canadian government does nothing to level the playing field among communities that can afford top-notch fire protection and those that cannot. My thanks to those who kept the discussion going. This time I would like to recognize that there are fire service organizations across Canada that aren’t willing to simply accept the status quo – organizations that pull themselves up by the bootstraps and strive to meet their challenges despite having little or no budget and, in some cases, no fire protection infrastructure.
By Peter Sells
In 2002 it was my privilege to be invited to speak
to a regional fire conference in Moose Factory, Ont. The conference attracted
volunteer firefighters from the predominantly Cree communities across the James
Bay region of Ontario and Quebec. The
level of commitment of the participants was among the highest I have witnessed.
To travel the distances that some of these people had done and take part in
difficult training sessions, all on their own time and without expectation of
remuneration, spoke volumes. These were servant-leaders within their
communities, people who were willing to show the way through service and self sacrifice.
Regional conferences for volunteer firefighters
take place across the country. Most are self funded, run on a shoestring budget
and staffed by volunteers. I can’t let FireCon in Thunder
Bay go unmentioned as a great example of a
well-run and well-attended regional event.
A colleague described for me a program run by the
Métis Nation of Alberta, in
which Métis youth are sponsored into a mentorship course that prepares them to
apply for firefighter positions. Other First Nations communities have, or are
in the process of developing, similar initiatives. This got me surfing a bit,
and I found out about a team of wildland firefighters in B.C. who call
themselves the Red River Rangers. Since
2003, Métis candidates from all over B.C. compete for one of the 20 elite
positions in a process that tests their leadership skills, physical fitness,
safety, experience and attitude.
I also discovered the Beetle Battlers, a group of Métis
wildland firefighters in Alberta who
fight fire in the summer and mountain pine beetles in the off season. According
to the regional president of the Métis Nation of Alberta, “These
people are unique. They were born in the bush, grew up in the bush and know the
bush and that’s what makes them so good at their job. Not everyone could do
I think the point is that not everyone shows that
level of commitment to leveling the playing field for their community. So the
task at hand for this blog is to trumpet examples of people or organizations that
have stepped up to the plate. Let me start by pointing out that the Canadian
Volunteer Fire Services Association, in partnership with Medteq Solutions CA,
announced a $1 million online training grant program last week. Here is a link
to the announcement: www.medteqsolutions.ca/28401.html
Not only are these organizations taking steps to
level the playing field for volunteer fire services, the grant program requires
that applicants agree to completing the training to which they receive access.
Benchmarks must be met or the grant is removed and awarded to another
applicant. In other words, the partnership offering the grants is saying “We
are willing to help you out, but you must be willing to show your commitment.”
A level playing field if ever there was one.