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Most Islanders have a strong sense of community and are quick to help their neighbour in need, but in our midst are a special group of Islanders who go way beyond the usual call to assist. They are the men and women of our rural volunteer firefighting brigades.
Not just anyone can be a firefighter. Each one must have the physical and mental stamina, and most importantly the commitment to neighbour and community to bounce out of bed at 4 a.m., or any other time of day to respond to a call that may take them to a raging house fire, serious motor vehicle collision, medical emergency or a more mundane grass fire that needs to be extinguished before developing into a situation that threatens life or property.
To qualify as a fire fighter something else is also required. That is a lot of time and concentration. To become a Level 1 fire fighter, one must first take a 12-week course, two evenings per week on fire theory, followed by a three weekend day program of fire simulation at a facility in Charlottetown. This training is followed by a written exam requiring at least 70 per cent to pass. A two-day medical first responder course for basic first aid, with application of CPR, Narcan and use of a defibrillator must also be mastered to complete Level 1 qualification. A day course of HazMat (hazardous materials) is also part of the training package. All told, this would require at least 144 hours of effort and focus.
Once a member of the firefighting team in his or her community, the real show of commitment begins. Two meetings per month are standard, one for regular business, and one for ongoing training to hone-in on firefighting skills and personal safety. With regular meetings and responding to calls – 80 to 100 per year – averaging two hours per response, a typical firefighter may devote 230 hours per year for this unpaid, skilled work, or broken down that would be six regular work weeks.
We are very fortunate to have this very generous and courageous group of Islanders who so willingly place themselves at risk, sacrificing time from their families, earnings and other pursuits to protect the health, safety and property of their neighbours and communities. All we can do is express our gratitude, practice fire prevention and participate in any fundraising activities they initiate, again on their own time, to purchase further equipment or tools they need for the duty they carry out so well.
Thanks again to all our fire fighters, and best wishes to those who consider joining our unsung, but deeply appreciated heroes.
Dr. Herb Dickieson,