SHEET HARBOUR: The number of emergency calls are up on the Eastern Shore but the number of residents signing up to become volunteer firefighters is down. To address this challenge, Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency is trying new ways to recruit volunteers.
A new working group of current volunteer firefighters has been tasked with developing ideas to generate interest from the next generation.
“The feedback received from this group will be translated into an action plan and is expected to be rolled out later this year after it’s been presented to Regional Council,” Brynn Budden, senior communications advisor, told The Journal in an email interview.
Fire Chief Ken Stuebing told The Journal by email that the department is hoping to secure additional funding from HRM to support urgent recruitment needs on the Eastern Shore.
“We have given some preliminary information to council on community risk across HRM and in particular the Eastern Shore,” the chief said. The fire department intends to bring more information on the challenge and strategies to council in the near future.
“As you can imagine this is a challenging situation and there are many variables and stakeholders that need to be considered,” Stuebing said.
“There are several reasons for the decline (of volunteer firefighters) including a changing demographic, a declining trend of volunteerism across North America, as well as population shifts from rural and suburban communities to the urban core,” says Budden. “While in some other areas of the municipality there is strong volunteer participation, there is a particular shortage on the Eastern Shore and Black Point areas.”
The Halifax Fire model includes volunteer and career firefighters who work collaboratively across the municipality. As with other jurisdictions, the municipality has seen a significant reduction in volunteer firefighter applications in the past couple of decades.
Statistically, there has been a disproportionate number of medical calls going into rural fire stations. “The issue of increased medical calls is also not unique to our region,” says Budden. “Medical calls are on the rise across North America as the population ages and health services evolve. While EHS is primarily responsible for medical calls, firefighters are regularly called in to assist which has increased demand for many of our rural stations.”
That’s led Halifax Fire to initiate a number of ongoing targeted recruitment drives for volunteer firefighters in rural parts of the municipality. The strategy focuses on both recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters, “including highlighting the personal benefits to becoming a volunteer firefighter,” explained Budden.
“These benefits include free training, a gateway to career firefighting, as well as the social and personal fulfilment of being part of an integral pillar in the community.” Financial recognition through an honorarium for volunteers is available. The average is $3,000 across the municipality with the annual amount depending on the frequency of calls in a community.
Janice Christie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal