It all starts with the shrill squealing of the pager at 3 AM – or any other unscheduled time – but it is a service that we tend to take for granted until it is our own house belching smoke and flame. Then we are very much conscious of the professional, practiced, methodical, and efficient work of the volunteer fire fighters.
A day in the life of a volunteer firefighter? How does it differ from a day in the life of a school teacher or electrician – unless the school teacher or electrician happens to be a volunteer firefighter also?
To answer my question I sat down with Councillor Ernest Pfanner who is a volunteer firefighter, electrician, elected official, husband of one and father of three who rides horses, quads, and a Suzuki 900 in his spare time; one busy man!
What prompts a busy man to join the volunteer fire fighters and what keeps him there for a quarter of a century? “At first the hose competitions looked like a lot of fun, and they are. I was young. I thought I could be a help to the community and have fun doing it. I haven’t been disappointed. We enjoy a lot of camaraderie and bonding. For example, it’s winter, snowing, we get a call that there is a roll over in the Pine Pass about an hour west of Chetwynd. We understand the risks and take precautions so we have time to get to know each other. (Callouts are about evenly divided between rescue and fire.) And we have this unwritten rule: No one goes home mad.
I guess the things that attracted me first have kept me there. I still enjoy the camaraderie. I still get to help out when people are hurting; we still have hose-laying competitions. In 2012 Chetwynd won first over all in the annual competition at Taylor”
What about preparation? “Practice sessions happen once a week where we have mock burnings, confined entry situations, simulated smoke, equipment drills, breathing apparatus drills. The mainline fire fighters’ gear weighs ten pounds plus the Scott Air Pack so we have to be fit and comfortable with everything.”
How many members are in the crew right now? “There are thirty members at present and at a big fire we’ll have twenty show up. That’s a good turnout given that we are all volunteers and have jobs and other responsibilities.”
Have you ever been scared? “Yes! One time I was in a burning building when the floor collapsed under me. As you can see, I escaped but I was scared!”
Memorable moments? “Definitely! It’s a wonderful experience to save a life.”
As in most small communities, Chetwynd’s fire fighters are volunteers. But even as volunteers, there is a cost to be paid, a budget item every year. Part of your tax bill is to cover the cost of protecting you against that thing that we love and fear – fire. Be careful with fires! Drive defensively!
Merlin Nichols, Mayor