The Thornhill Volunteer Fire Department could use more volunteers at its satellite hall which serves the Lakelse Lake and Jackpine Flats areas, says chief Wes Patterson.
Without enough firefighters for more outlying areas, insurance companies could very well decide there’s an increased risk factor and then raise rates.
That hasn’t happened yet in the area, but it has happened in other parts of B.C., said Patterson.
“We’re lucky that our tax base allows us the equipment we need and [the ability to] maintain it well and provide training but it’s no good if we don’t have volunteers,” said Patterson.
The only other alternative would be to put paid firefighters at satellite halls but the call volume would not make the expense cost effective, he added.
The satellite hall covering Lakelse Lake and Jackpine Flats is one of two such halls, the other is at Gitaus east of Thornhill on Hwy16, serving as ancillary facilities to the department’s main hall immediately adjacent to the Thornhill Community Grounds and the closed Thornhill Junior Secondary School.
Patterson said ideally he’d like 15 volunteer firefighters attached to each satellite hall.
Volunteers are always welcome and overall, the all-volunteer department, with the exception of Patterson and deputy chief Rick Boehm, has a good complement of volunteers.
Regular training days are on Thursdays but now there’s also training on Mondays for those who can’t make it Thursdays.
That training day option has helped retain volunteers, says deputy chief Rick Boehm.
Another aspect that has helped built up the force’s volunteer contingent is its junior program for youth age 16 to 19.
“What that allows them to do is basically be part of the functioning department, excluding [live firefighting], so they can participate in training and live fire training but we will not send them to a burning building,” said Boehm who was a cadet himself.
“It’s a huge advantage if youths are dedicated, by the time they’re 19, they can write their ticket and go into fire departments because we will provide the training,” he added.
Aside from needing firefighters at the Lakelse Lake hall and a few more at its second satellite hall at Gitaus, the department is fairly well served, said Boehm.
About 10 per cent of the department is people older than 50, with the majority of the crew in the 35 to 50 age range.
“We haven’t established a mandatory age [for retirement],” said Boehm, adding that older firefighters can still drive the truck or help with hoses.
The department will also take into account physical limitations, he said.
“Not everyone has got a good strong back, but they can do 80 per cent of the work,” said Boehm.
The deputy chief also pointed to a camaraderie within the department that extends to offering emotional support when needed.
“You have to be in tune with every person to make the whole team work,” said Boehm. “A lot of departments have a suck-it-up attitude and that’s not what we do.”
“I think if you can emotionally support and pick up the person and help them achieve that goal, they can hold their head high as opposed to struggling and feeling they can’t get it done and that someone else has to finish it instead.”
The Thornhill Volunteer Fire Department comes under the Kitimat-Stikine Regional District is financed through taxes. It also as an agreement with the Kitselas First Nation.