‘It’s a 24-hour job, and a lot of people can’t do it anymore.’
COVID-19, according to several fire stations on P.E.I., has exacerbated a volunteer fireman shortage.
Chief Ron Phillips of the O’Leary Fire Department says his all-volunteer department’s firefighter numbers are at their lowest in the 31 years he’s been active.
He’s even gone out to individuals to see if they’re interested, but so far, he’s had no results.
Phillips stated, “I’d say half of them said, come back with the answer: come talk to me when COVID’s done.”
“I believe it simply comes down to their worry for their own health… We’re currently short four members; prior to COVID, we were fully staffed.”
He states that in order to respond to a large fire, his department needs at least 15 firefighters; they now have 24.
Aside from COVID, he believes that people simply have different lifestyles.
“It’s a 24-hour job, and a lot of people can’t do it anymore.”
Chief Johnny Dugay of the Kinkora Fire Department said the department is short four firefighters from its usual 35 and has no applicants.
“When I say we have 35 members,” Dugay explained, “we don’t always get 35 members reporting to a fire because of job commitments, vacation, or other things.”
Like Phillips, he believes that changing lifestyles are a factor.
“The major difficulty we’re seeing in Kinkora is that other activities or organisations are diverting our members’ time away from responding to and being highly involved with the Kinkora fire department.”
Camaraderie, according to Dugay, is what keeps people in the department.
“I think what attracts people is the ability to work together as a family and make a difference in someone’s life.”
Aside from that, Dugay thinks the work has certain material benefits.
“Our fire department receives a little honorarium,” he explained, “which would assist to offset the costs that the firefighters would incur when responding to incidents or attending training, such as gas or time away from work.”