Grassfires put intense pressure local fire departments already working at a fever pitch this time of year and in many cases these fire departments have fewer volunteer fire fighters than they used to.
The dwindling numbers on volunteer fire departments is a growing concern, said Cameron Abrey, president of the Manitoba Association of Fire Chiefs.
The mutual aid system set up by the Office of the Fire Commissioner enables departments to work together as the need arises but when the volunteer base is dwindling overall that has its limitations too, he said.
“You can always call on your neighbouring departments to give you a hand but if your neighbours are busy and you’re busy where are we getting the fire fighters to do the job?” he said.
Abrey said rural fire departments struggle to recruit volunteers, even as the number of calls they handle is on the rise.
“The biggest challenge to rural communities is that our populations seem to shrinking and people are taking jobs in larger communities so a lot of departments are falling short,” he said. “They may have members in their communities in the evenings and on weekends but they don’t have the numbers that they believe the require for the week day calls. In other areas we have just dwindling numbers of people.”
Fire departments in the Parklands area are also concerned that their existing volunteer base isn’t getting any younger, and there aren’t new people to come in.
About 80 per cent of all fire departments in Canada rely solely on volunteers so it’s a growing concern nationally, Abrey added.
Meanwhile, a spring like the one setting up early this month can take a real toll when volunteer fire fighters must work extra long hours.
“These are people who carry a pager and have other jobs,” he said.
The Manitoba Association of Fire Chiefs has a continuous call out for more volunteers for local departments.
“Anyone can be a fire fighter,” he said. “Everyone can be there to help out their community and every fire department is providing training for their members.”