Volunteer firefighters play an essential role in small communities

Waterloo Region Record

Recently, there have been news reports of some full-time firefighters — so-called “double hatters” — quitting their second job with volunteer fire departments in Waterloo Region.

I am not here to debate what the right or wrong decision is on that issue. Instead, I’m going to write about the importance of volunteer firefighters themselves.

I grew up in the village of Linwood, which is part of Wellesley Township. Linwood has its own volunteer firefighters, and along with the villages of St. Clements and Wellesley, they make up the three departments that service Wellesley Township.

My father was a volunteer firefighter for more than 30 years, and worked alongside many of his friends. As children, we thought it was cool that we got to hang out at the firehall and try on dad’s gear. We thought it was neat when the fire trucks drove by and we knew our father was in one of them.

We never realized how often our dad would be woken up in the middle of the night to respond to a call, and how our mom would awaken as well, and then would wait for him to safely return home.

As we got older, we began to understand what being a volunteer firefighter meant.

It meant leaving for a call during a family dinner or summer campfire, or not being able to go with us to our baseball or hockey game. It meant leaving whatever you are involved in to answer a fire call for your community.

When a person is a volunteer firefighter in a small community, it can mean answering calls that involve a friend or a person you know. Many times, we would see the emotion on our dad’s face when he would arrive home after a call involving someone from town that everyone knew. But we’d also see the joy in his face when he would arrive home knowing he helped someone who was in trouble.

With countless meetings and training sessions, volunteer firefighters are very well-trained in different scenarios. My father was proud to serve with all the other firefighters and took pride in helping out the community, sometimes putting his life at risk for very little monetary reward.

After he retired, he was glad to hear Wellesley Township was getting full-time firefighters to help out on the volunteer squads. Although the volunteers are very well trained, they don’t get to use their skills as often as the full timers. Full-time fighters bring valuable experience and are able to give plenty of helpful advice regarding the different types of calls they all might answer.

When my mother suddenly passed away at home, the volunteer firefighters were the first on the scene, not only trying to help my mother before her death until the ambulance arrived, but also consoling our family, especially my dad.

And when my father passed away years after retiring from the service, all the firefighters showed up in full uniform and provided an honour guard at the funeral with the fire trucks. These are just two occasions where volunteer firefighters touched our lives personally and left a lasting impression on how important they are in a small community.

Hopefully, in the near future, an agreement can be reached in order to retain full-time firefighters as part of volunteer departments. While all volunteers are vital in small communities, the full-timers play an important role in keeping their communities safe and sound. We need to keep all of these firefighters as part of these departments.

Scott Basler, of Elmira, is an employee of Home Hardware.