The Carstairs Fire Department recruiting process, which recently closed, has yielded 11 potential candidates, and according to Carstairs Fire Prevention Officer, Josh Van Arnam, six to seven of those potential candidates may very well join the ranks of the Carstairs Fire Department.
Van Arnam said that there doesn't seem to be a change in the number of potential candidates when compared to last year, and when asked if he observed any challenges with recruiting to the paid-on-call department, Van Arnam stated that he feels it's easier to apply.
"I think it's harder for people, to commit to it and it's simply because people are so busy nowadays - with their kids with their jobs and with their their lifestyle," he said. "Coming into a fire department and us applicants and full-fledged members to make 70 per cent of the training, 30 per cent of the calls; it's a big time commitment. I think a lot of people don't understand until they come and get into it."
Carstairs population as of the 2016 census was at over 4,077 residents, with the expectation that this has grown in the past several years. However, Van Arnam said that the switch from a paid-on-call fire department to a professional fire department, such as Airdrie or Calgary is not feasible, not even in the next decade or two.
"It's such a hard balance and it's simply because to become a fully paid fire department, it costs millions upon millions of dollars. Even just to have a pump crew, you're looking at hiring - if you had, for instance, four people on one crew, now you've got four people per shift. Three or four shifts - [that's] looking at 20 to 25, people that are all full-time paid firefighters. It balloons very, very quickly and small communities just can't afford it."
But the balancing act isn't just figured in the budgets of towns, it's also found in the motivations of those who decide to apply for local fire departments.
"That's the joy of being a firefighter in a small community; you're helping your community, but at the same time, it's a huge commitment for people."
While Van Arnam himself has had an ebb-and-flow relationship with the fire department, he has continued to come back and serve in the community.
"It is the community. I love helping out my community, but it's also the crew that we have. Carstairs has a phenomenal group of individuals that all bring their niche to the Carstairs Fire Department," Van Arnam said. "Yes, we always have the turnaround, people get busy, but we always seem to have that core group of people that are always around."
A 2022 census conducted by The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC), in partnership with the Answer the Call committee, the Data committee, and the National Advisory Council (NAC), noted that country-wide out of the 126,000 firefighters, 71 per cent of them were volunteer firefighters, while 29 per cent were deemed as career firefighters.
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