From The Hip: How valuable are fire services to you?
for Smoky River Express
How valuable is our regional fire department to you?
It's a question each of us must ask ourself as volunteer firefighter numbers in the Smoky River region continue to show signs of following the beaten path of the dinosaur.
So, just how bad is it, you ask? Well, 18 active firefighters to be exact, including just three in McLennan, four in Donnelly and 11 for Smoky River Fire & Rescue.
It's a number which is both insufficient and unacceptable for a region which serves roughly 4,500 residents.
Regional fire chief Derian Rosario summed it up best in this week's Express when he sounded the alarm by emphasizing the regional fire service is in "pretty bad shape."
What's needed is an influx of willing volunteers to step up to the plate in our greatest time of need.
The shortfall of active volunteer firefighters in the Smoky River region isn't exclusive to our area. It's a common concern throughout the province and Canada, regardless of what community you place under the microscope.
The obstacles volunteer chiefs face in terms of recruitment remain and arduous and often daunting task to say the very least.
There are about 127,000 volunteer firefighters in Canada. In Ontario alone, it's estimated it would cost taxpayers more than $1 billion annually to replace the volunteer firefighters with full-time staff.
Shocking isn't it?
It's safe to say that our dedicated firefighters would have more than enough cash to put their children through university and stuff a reserve under the pillow as their rainy day fund under that scenario.
Unfortunately, volunteer firefighters donít work for private companies. They are civil servants, who share in the pride of protecting their respective communities by providing a valuable core service. They unselfishly serve the community around the clock by continually putting their needs of others ahead of their own, a noble gesture indeed which is worthy of our utmost appreciation and gratitude.
Volunteer fire departments are nothing short of essential assets in rural communities where funding opportunities are limited. They provide our volunteer firefighters with the tools they need, including training, equipment and a fair remuneration package as a small token of appreciation for their continued efforts in protecting and serving residents in our region.
Our regional fire service provides all of these incentives and much more. The only void is volunteers themselves, and that's something which has to change, especially considering what's at stake.
With a bare bones minimum of 18 firefighters in the region, we now run the very real risk of not having sufficient manpower in place to respond to a serious emergency situation, whether it's a structural fire, motor vehicle collision or call for medical assistance.
Considering what's at stake, one would think that alone would be more than enough of a motivational factor to get willing volunteers lining up at the doors of our fire halls.