Some Central Alberta fire departments’ struggle to find enough volunteers is a familiar story to Alberta Fire Chiefs Association president Peter Krich.
“The volunteer fire service has always been a challenge,” said Krich, as 200 fire chiefs from around Alberta gathered for their annual conference in Red Deer, which runs until Wednesday.
“We recognized that about six years ago in our organization, understanding that the volunteer fire services right across our province struggled with recruitment and retention of their volunteers.”
In Central Alberta, Mirror and Donalda have recently been forced to rely on neighbouring departments because of volunteer shortages.
In response, Alberta Fire Chiefs Association developed its “Answer the Call” program.
It provides information on how individual departments can determine the most significant obstacles to recruitment and ways to overcome that. Doing more promotion and working more with government, businesses and community organizations are among recommendations.
Improving the supports, such as counselling available to firefighters and their families, as well as promoting diversity are other successful approaches.
Krich said Alberta’s work on the issue has been so well received the program has now been adopted by fire departments across Canada through the Canadian Fire Chiefs Association.
Despite the recruitment and retention success stories, finding enough volunteers remains an issue for many communities.
“It still will be an ongoing challenge because of everything that’s happening in our economy and the way things are going in communities …”
Red Deer County director of community and protective services Ric Henderson said the conference’s theme “leadership and building together” certainly resonates only a year after the Wood Buffalo wildfire.
Henderson said the disaster had an impact across the province.
“A lot of fire departments went up there and found that everyone really needs to work together and have that leadership, not only from the fire departments, but from the province and municipal leaders,” said Henderson.
Besides the opportunity to hear speakers talking about leadership, fire chiefs also got information to help with administration and operations. A trade show included some of the latest firefighting equipment.