With 24 volunteer firefighters now signed up, the Houston Volunteer Fire Department is looking for six recruits to reach an ideal complement of 30 people, says fire chief Jim Daigneault who is also in charge of emergency services planning and training for the the District of Houston.
The department does not test for fitness levels but it is expected volunteers have a level of fitness to be able to perform many different tasks, he said.
“The province now has a minimum training level that departments need to meet plus the first responder training that is required,” Daigneault added.
Weekly training sessions require volunteers to be available for two hours each session.
Volunteers are expected to respond to calls during the week if they are able to and take turns being on call during weekends.
“We have been running with a signup sheet for weekend duties which they need to commit for that weekend which could involve about seven weekends a year depending on the number of members we have,” Daigneault said.
And as with other fire departments, the Houston Volunteer Fire Department has evolved into more than responding to fire calls.
“Lately our medical assist calls are running about 65 per cent [of call volume] with motor vehicle incidents about 6 per cent,” said Daigneault.
The medical assist calls in no way replace the provincial ambulance service but does assist with lifts or, in more serious cases, with CPR and overdoses or other critical items.
“We normally get calls for the more serious type of events chest pain, difficult breathing, unconscious person,” he said.
It’s not that the number of medical assist calls has increased over the years, said Daigneault, it’s that other calls have decreased in terms of a percentage of total calls.
“People are getting better at being careful with wood stoves, cooking, outside fires,” he said.
Required first responder training covers most everything from wound management, heart attacks/strokes performing CPR, neck and back injuries and proper treatment and packaging, and child birth,” Daigneault added.
As volunteers, firefighters are not paid but through the fire department’s budget, receive passes, including family members, to the leisure facility.
Recruits can also look forward to something the current volunteers have been anticipating for several years now —a new rescue truck.
Ordered at the end of 2019, production was slowed down by the pandemic and an original delivery date of last summer was pushed back with delivery now scheduled for this summer.
“I have been told our truck may be available for final inspection in the first part of June and then delivery after that I would hope by July,” said Daigneault.
This truck is coming from Hub Fire Engines of Abbotsford at a purchase price of $361,610.
And while the fire department volunteers await the arrival of their new rescue truck, the District has also had consultants preparing the groundwork for the eventual construction of a replacement fire hall.
A concept plan has yet to be released but the District has placed a new fire hall on its list of assets that will require replacement.
Key to the concept plan is that the new fire hall be of sufficient height to house ladder trucks.
And that limits the Houston fire department’s ability to provide equipment for high angle firefighting.
Formed in 1957 as one of the first acts of the-then newly formed District of Houston, the fire department was first located in an old school building and later housed in a converted community hall. Its current home dates back to 1965.
The fire department has three pumpers, a tanker, the soon-to-be replaced rescue unit and a command pick up.