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Community Spotlight: Shelburne Fire Department

June 14, 2018   ·   0 Comments

Written By PETER RICHARDSON

Most people know what their Fire Department does when it comes to fighting fires. But, that is generally where it all stops. You may know a firefighter, or even the Chief, but do you know what they actually do for the community beyond fighting fires and helping extricate victims from a car crash, or even rescuing cats from a trees?

Brad Lemaich is all too familiar with the scenario. Brad has been the Fire Chief in Shelburne since October of 2015 and a firefighter since January 1st, 2004.During that time, he has seen, first hand, the work, of the many, full-time and paid on-call, or volunteer firefighters he has come to know and respect in communities from Tillsonburg to Greenstone and now Shelburne.

All firefighters, in Ontario, must train to the same levels of qualification, be they full-time or paid on-call. They are all certified under the same legislations and they are all expected to take the same risks and face the same challenges, on the job and in training.

Shelburne currently has 29 firefighters and a Deputy Chief, on-call, at the fire station, with Chief Lemaich. They have five fire appliance vehicles, a pick-up truck and all the associated gear that goes with those. Every firefighter has their own suit of “bunker gear”. They all have radios and of course, their helmet and gloves.

Last year alone, the department responded to 18 fires, 302 service calls, 82 collisions, 8 vital signs absent calls and 14 assist to other agencies calls. Then there are the 15-plus various public service events, station tours, off sites, parades and safety inspections and before you know it, another year has gone by without anyone noticing.

Shelburne’s department is entirely paid on-call except for the Chief. Like all departments, full-time or not, they are Provincially mandated but municipally funded, with no other external funding provided. This type of a force is by and large the standard for small communities within the province and, in this day and age of more exacting employment standards, it can be a strain for the volunteers.

Ten to fifteen years ago, employers were more firefighter friendly when it came to giving time off at a moments notice to their firefighting employees. Today, with all the changes in industry and commerce and the need for a leaner more qualified work force, things are not as they used to be. This is a challenging factor for Shelburne’s firefighters, but, to date, they, with the aid and assistance of their neighbouring departments, remain effective and have yet to turn down any call. Shift workers are a major assistance in this area, but those with full-time days are still active whenever they are not at work and particularly those hours between, sundown and sun up.

All Shelburne’s firefighters are paid for the time they are working and they are paid a minimum of one hour should they have a call that turns out to be nothing at all, but they are not paid for all the time that they invest in the department. Consequently, many of the tasks around the firehall and in fact, throughout the department fall to the Chief, the only full-time employee in the department. On any given day, Brad Lemaich can be found filing paper work, weeding the garden plants, designing fire related by-laws, educating the public or delivering a truck in need of some routine maintenance.

Every Thursday evening, he can be found with as many firefighters as are available, engaging in Departmental training sessions. Whether it be ladder work or training on the new Pumper, or a vehicular extraction exercise , the firefighters are always training and staying prepared.

But in addition, with the recent changes to the Ontario laws, every member of the department must become a National Fire Protection Association Certified Firefighter, a qualification with some onerous achievement requirements. Onerous in part because of the inherent costs to the Departments members.

The obvious “go to” place for qualifications is the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst, but since there is only one and it services all of Ontario’s firefighters, it is not readily available. That leaves the firefighter with two options, to either attend one of the several private schools in Ontario or a trip south of the border to attend one of the American  schools. Some choose that latter option and the major destination is the State of Texas. In fact, one of Shelburne’s newest hires, Firefighter Luke Downey, is a graduate of the Texas A&M University Emergency Services Training Institute. However, several others are graduates from schools here in Ontario, such as The Southwest Fire Academy, for O’Brian Campbell and the Fire and Emergency ServicesTraining Institute, at Pearson Airport, for Firefighter Symon Weatherall.

At the moment, various members of the Department are certified in many fields.

In addition to the 31 members of the Shelburne and District Fire Department, there are the five pieces of fire apparatus that now comprises the department’s fleet.

Everyone is aware of the 100’ ladder truck, but in addition there are two 1,000 gallon pumpers, a 3,000 gallon tanker truck and the rescue truck, which is virtually a rolling tool box, with everything from fire axes to massively capable hydraulic tools on board. Add to this the Fire Chief’s pick-up truck and the assortment of hoses, nozzles, ladders, air bottles, ropes, hand tools, generators and spares and you can almost imagine the department inventory.All of which and more, is housed in the fire hall located on O’Flynn Street, in town.

The newest truck, Pumper 24 is the current pride and joy of the department. It can pump 1500 gallons a minute, which surpasses its predecessor by 250 gallons per minute and can provide an extra level of security for those being protected by it’s hoses. In addition it has a smaller turning radius and can therefore turn sharper due to the shorter wheelbase, something that provides added confidence in the tighter development roads being built today. The truck has an enclosed cab for it’s six firefighters and that makes for safer to and from delivery of the crew and operators, in the pumper.

In firefighting, as virtually anywhere, equipment has a life expectancy. For a well cared for firetruck, this is twenty  years. Once that age passes, regardless of the condition of the vehicle, insurance prices and natural wear and tear take effect and it becomes time for a new apparatus purchase.

Chief Lemaich and the Fire Service Board were able to purchase a new Pumper in early 2018, that was not only under budget, thus allowing for more options to be added, but is fully enclosed and more agile than it’s predecessor. Both trucks are now part of the Departmental Fleet and the firefighters are training on the new truck prior to it entering active service.

Becoming a Firefighter is not a simple practice. There are five steps to be accomplished, followed by a period of three years serving as a “probationary firefighter”  before becoming a regular staff member. The first year of those three, involves a training program and possibly further schooling as well and at the firefighters own expense!. Once hired, there is a Code of Conduct that must be followed, weekly training sessions and the possible requirement to upgrade their drivers license. Being a firefighter, is not for everyone, but for those who rise to the calling, it can be highly fulfilling  and personally rewarding.

If you think you may be interested, Chief Lemaich is always willing to provide you with an application form at the Hall.

         

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