Being a firefighter more than fighting fires

By Tyler J. Moffitt
The Safety Advocate

I’ve been a volunteer firefighter since the 1980s and presently am a member of the Fort France Fire and Rescue Service, which is a composite department made up of a nine full-time and 20 plus part-time, on-call fire and rescue personnel.
Back in the early 1990s, I served with two fire and rescue services, including one being a rural department.
The fire and rescue service has changed over the years—evolving from just providing fire suppression services to rescue services.
The fire and rescue service is no longer just a garage that houses fire trucks. It is about fire prevention, public education, inspection, training, and, as a last resort, fire suppression, rescue, and hazardous materials response.
Being a member of the fire and rescue service involves a commitment—a commitment to training and continuing education.
When I met my wife 20 years ago, I had only two-and-a-half years of service as a volunteer firefighter. She has been supportive and understanding because, over the many years, I’ve attended numerous emergencies, as well as training sessions, which took a lot of time to complete.
In July of this year, I took vacation so I could attend—along with three other firefighters—the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst for a week-long training course in hazardous material operations.
Why? Because Fort Frances presently is the second-busiest rail port in North America for train traffic, as well as carrying hazardous materials.
This past June, for instance, a fiery freight train derailment about 80 miles from Chicago involving ethanol-filed railcars exploded, killing at least one person.
Guess where that freight train travelled through a few days before? It came through Fort Frances and Rainy River District.
We, as a community and district, need to look at the whole picture . . . the current situation when we think of the fire and rescue service.
Some fire and rescue services across Canada are moving towards a slow death. Why? The situation exists because of funding, lack of trained personnel, and legislation requirements, as well as the aging population.
Meanwhile, there are fire and rescue services that may assume that everything is just fine with regards to fire prevention, public education, inspection, as well as training in their community.
Other fire and rescue services are looking at building a new fire hall or addition—when less than 10 minutes away a composite fire and rescue service is stationed.
Apparatus and equipment rationalization needs to be looked at if your local fire and rescue service is going to maintain what it can provide in the near future.
To address the needs and maintain what we have, as well as embrace continuous improvement, the fire and rescue service needs to work together with other fire and rescue services and all stakeholders.
As the police and paramedic services has moved towards a district/regional service, the fire and rescue service also needs to move towards the same type of service with a professional organizational structure.
The creation of the Rainy River District Fire and Rescue Service may be the future direction and path to take—if we are going to move forward and address the current challenges, as well as the many to come.
The fire and rescue service . . . we are your neighbours, co-workers, and friends. We are there in the time of need to protect life, property, and the environment at a moment’s notice.
Tyler J. Moffitt is a volunteer firefighter and emergency responder, as well as a continuous improvement advocate.

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