Volunteers step up to become firefighters

Fire insurance rates for Grand Forks' North Fork residents won’t be going up thanks to seven new firefighting recruits.

Meet the new recruits for the George Evans Fire Hall near Hummingbird Bridge up the North Fork valley. From left to right

Story and photos by Erin Perkins

Fire insurance rates for North Fork residents won’t be going up thanks to seven new firefighting recruits.

In November, the North Fork/Brown Creek community was told by Grand Forks Fire/Rescue Fire Chief Dale Heriot that unless the local fire department gained seven new recruits, the George Evans Fire Hall would lose its status.

If that happened, the Fire Underwriters Survey (FUS)—which establishes the Public Fire Protection Classification of a community for fire insurance companies—would cause the fire insurance rates to rise significantly due to the distance between the North Fork community and the downtown fire hall in Grand Forks. Any residents living past the eight-kilometre mark would have seen significant increases in their rates.

The FUS has graded the North Fork community as semi-protected but that grade would have dropped to unprotected had the hall closed, said Grand Forks Fire/Rescue Deputy Chief Kevin McKinnon.

Since the meeting in November, the community responded. Last week six of the seven newest members of the George Evans Fire Hall started their training at the weekly practice evening at the Grand Forks Fire Hall.

The George Evans Fire Hall will now have the 10 volunteers necessary to keep the hall going.

“We’re glad to have the recruits,” said veteran firefighter lieutenant John Billwiller the morning after the training session. “It’s a good beginning.”

“I’m very pleased we’ve got the seven we’ve got,” agreed McKinnon. “It is the bare minimum, though. We’d like to get one or two more. It is impressive to get this number of people to step up and help.”

While keeping their fire insurance rates down was at the top of the new recruits drive to get involved, it certainly wasn’t their only reason.

Recruit James Hall has returned to the department after a few years away—he took a hiatus while his children were little.

Now he’s back and he said the training he has experienced so far is more comprehensive than ever before. As a basic first aid trainer for Selkirk College in addition to his swift water technician training, Hall finds being a volunteer both rewarding and professionally enriching.

“I (returned) to keep the insurance rates where they are at and I feel I can also contribute to the community,” said Hall, who would have seen a nearly $4,500 increase in the insurance rates for his ranch if the hall had closed. “I’m already willing to help my neighbours, so I might as well do it in a more organized and professional level.”

Like Hall, Kristina Hockley responded to the needs of her community. She has never been a firefighter before and is looking forward to learning some new skills.

“When I heard that our local fire hall, George Evans, would be decommissioned if it was unable to recruit the minimum volunteers, I became concerned for our community,” said Hockley, who lives on a rural property in the Brown Creek area. “Not only would we all face massive increases to our insurance policies but we would lose a rural safety net. A month of wildfires north and south of our neighborhood was enough to remind me how exposed we are and on occasion we’ll be at the mercy of our abilities when resources are tied up with multiple fires.”

It will take about two months of training before the new recruits are active. In the meantime, the hall will continue to be supported by the Grand Forks department, as it always has been.

While the department has met the bare minimum of 10 firefighters, ideally they would like to have 15. Those interested in volunteering should contact the Grand Forks Fire/Rescue Department at www.gffr.ca or by calling 250-442-3612.