Elliot Lake Fire Service seeking more volunteers
Elliot Lake Fire Service seeking more volunteers
June 29, 2017
Elliot Lake Standard
Article by: Kevin McSheffrey
It probably wouldn’t be a good thing if a potential volunteer firefighter was afraid of heights. Sometimes, there is a long way to go in training and battling a fire.

Photo by KEVIN McSHEFFREY/THE STANDARD It probably wouldn’t be a good thing if a potential volunteer firefighter was afraid of heights. Sometimes, there is a long way to go in training and battling a fire.

Like the military, the Elliot Lake Fire Service (ELFS) is looking for a few good men and women to serve in their community.
Elliot Lake Fire Chief John Thomas, who is also the city’s director of protective services, says they need more volunteer firefighters. Currently, the service has nine full-time firefighters and 13 volunteers. While they are permitted up to 25 volunteers, he says he would like to have 18 to 20.
To become a volunteer firefighter in Ontario a person has to be at least 18 years old, have a driver’s licence, get a police check and a doctor’s note stating that the candidate is physically fit.
All the firefighters must pass the annual physical fitness tests that require firefighters to do a variety of tasks from climbing several flights of stairs with gear, to being able to carry a person, and to be able to work high off the ground, to name a few.
Thomas says as long as the volunteer can pass the physical fitness tests, age is not an issue. He says there are some volunteer firefighters in the province that are 80 years old.
A new firefighter cannot go out on a call until he/she has completed their first 24 hours of training, which can take 10 weeks to five months, at two hours per week.
“They can also shorten that down,” says William Elliott, a 15-year veteran volunteer firefighter. “If you’re enthusiastic, there are opportunities to shrink that time down.”
To speed up the process they can go to the fire hall on weekends for extra training, he adds.
However, Thomas says they don’t want new firefighters going through the training too quickly.
Elliott explains that a lot of what they need to know is memory work, which comes with repetitive training. It doesn’t come by cramming.
“Our training is based on that, it’s a repeating cycle.”
And by attending training sessions regularly they get to learn changes in training mandated by the Ministry of Labour or the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office.
They added that an example would be for ladders. Just because a person has climbed a ladder at home to install Christmas lights doesn’t mean they are qualified on ladders. There is a lot to learn about ladders.
They must then pass exams on: personal protective equipment, get dressed in bunker gear, the chemistry of combustion and tool identification. In addition, they must pass a test on connecting a hose to the fire hydrant and the fire engine, explains Thomas.
Elliott says what the ELFS needs are “committed volunteers.”
There is more to being a volunteer firefighter than going through the early steps. They have to commit to going to the weekly training, as much as possible, he explains.
“They have to be willing to come to calls, improve their ongoing education, and take advantage of special training,” adds Elliott.
Volunteer firefighters, as well as full-time, have to be able to do any of the tasks they are asked. When they are dressed in their full bunker gear it is very difficult to identify
individuals, and who might be trained for what. So, they all need the same training, agree Thomas and Elliott.
However, they realize that some people are on shift work and might not be able to attend each Wednesday evening’s training session, which usually lasts about two hours.
Thomas says they are certainly willing to accept people on shift work, and they understand and accept their limitations regarding weekly training.
The commitment they need requires having to answer a call at 3 a.m., or possibly on Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve.
“You go from sound asleep to max…,” says Elliott, and you have to be prepared.
He adds that people have to do it for the right reasons. If a person joins the fire department because of the rush and the prestige of being a firefighter, “They won’t last because the training is going to be too much.”
And one would think that when a firefighter is responding to a fire, neatness doesn’t count. Well, it does.
Elliott and Thomas say that before they leave a scene they try to clean up as much as possible, which is appreciated by the public. They have even received cards and letters thanking them, not only for the work they did battling a fire, but respecting the homeowner’s property, be it a fire call or an investigation.
“It’s all part of being professional,” says Elliott.
Gaining experience
Newer firefighters also gain from the experience of veterans.
“There’s lot of mentoring, and a lot of support that goes on,” says Elliott.
When a new firefighter attends a fire or the scene of an accident, what they see might not be what they expected.
Thomas says after major events they have a debriefing, which is aimed at reviewing what occurred and improving firefighters’ response to situations. It can also help a new firefighter deal with the situations on a more personal level, such as incidents that resulted in a fatality.
“When I was captain and in the truck…, I would tell them, ‘If you recognize the car, don’t get out of the truck,” says Thomas.
He also tries to mentally prepare newer firefighters for what they might see at a scene, if details are available, which is not always the case. And sometimes it “could be bad.”
“You can try to prepare yourself.
“But until you actually see it, you don’t know how you’re going to react.”
Elliott adds that after they are finished at the scene and heading back to the fire hall, the more experienced firefighters speak to the newer members about the incident to help them deal with it.
Busy time
The local fire service has had a busy year to date.
Thomas says so far this year, they responded to more than 150 calls. However, 18 calls came in Sunday, June 11, as a result of the power outage that hit the city. The calls ranged from downed power lines to power lines arcing on houses to people trapped in an elevator to a tree set on fire by a power line.
While Thomas has been fire chief for about two years, he has been a firefighter for 22 years.
He is not the longest serving full-time firefighter. That honour goes to Captain David George, who began his career 25 years ago, as a volunteer.
Thomas says all the full-time firefighters in Elliot Lake began here as volunteers.
For many, being a full-time or volunteer firefighter is extremely satisfying.
“To me it’s the best job in the world, but it’s not for everyone,” he says.
For more information, call Thomas at the fire hall at 705-848-3232.