North Fork residents will see their fire insurance skyrocket if volunteer firefighters don’t come forward.
This from Grand Forks Fire/Rescue Fire Chief Dale Heriot as he spoke to about 50 North Fork residents at the George Evans Fire Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 10. He was accompanied by Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) CAO John McLean, Area D/Rural Grand Forks Director Roly Russell, Deputy Fire Chief Kevin McKinnon, Assistant Chief Manfred Bialon and several of the volunteer firefighters.
Fire halls are required to have 15 volunteers, but the George Evans Fire Hall is considered a satellite of the downtown fire hall and can therefore operate with 10 volunteers to maintain its Level 4 rating (“semi-protected”). Once numbers fall below 10, the Fire Underwriters Survey (FUS) will step in and the rating will fall to a 5, creating an “unprotected” status and affecting insurance rates.
The FUS considers the distance to the nearest fire hall, so residents living north of about the eight-kilometre mark would be impacted; residents living closer to town are deemed to be protected from the downtown fire hall.
The North Fork hall now has three volunteer firefighters.
The role of the FUS is important to homeowners: it provides data on public fire protection for insurance companies, representing about 85 per centof the private sector property and casualty insurers in Canada.
“FUS conducts field surveys of the fire risks and fire defences maintained in built-up communities and uses these results to establish the Public Fire Protection Classification [PFPC] for each community,” Heriot explained. “PFPC is used to establish the Dwelling Protection Grade, which is used to set residential fire insurance rates.”
For example, average rates for a $300,000 North Fork home are $1,310 at the current semi-protected rating. Rates will rise to $3,290 if the rating drops to unprotected.
Firefighters and their families spoke up at the meeting about the many benefits to joining the department, highest among them the camaraderie that’s found in the “family” that is the fire department. “The firefighters in this valley are very much a family,” said Deb Billwiller, wife of one of the three volunteers of the George Evans Fire Hall.
Although it is a volunteer fire department, members do receive a stipend based on their attendance at calls and practices. The department also provides life insurance, extended health and dental, and on-the-job disability coverage to eligible members.
The George Evans Hall (located near Hummingbird Bridge 16 kilometres north of Grand Forks) doesn’t receive near as many calls per year as the other halls, but volunteers are still required to train weekly (Wednesday evenings). They may be male or female, between the ages of 18 and 65; however, “It’s not enough to have volunteer names on a list; members must be active within the department,” Heriot said.
All firefighters learn fire suppression, and optionally first responder medical, slope and high-angle rescue, road rescue, confined space rescue, swiftwater rescue, hazardous material response and fire prevention education training are available.
The men and women of Grand Forks Fire/Rescue do many other things, from social gatherings to charity work, added Heriot.
It was nine years ago that the city and Rural Fire Protection District signed an agreement which saw the city contracted to manage the rural fire service. This has resulted in one operational fire department, though some things politically and financially remain independent, Heriot explained. The department currently has two full-time staff and 48 volunteers.
Anyone wanting more information can call Grand Forks Fire/Rescue at 250-442-3612 (non-emergency number), or email the chief at firstname.lastname@example.org or the deputy chief at email@example.com. To stop in at the fire hall (7214 Second St.), it’s best to call ahead to 250-442-3612.
What is it like to be a female firefighter?
There are currently four female members in Grand Forks Fire/Rescue. Women are very welcome, but aren’t treated with kid gloves. Here’s what those women had to say:
The training is amazing, not hard, if you can’t do a certain component then you do what you can based on your abilities, not disabilities. We all bring our own strength to firefighting.
When I first started firefighting I went into a lot of burning buildings doing searches. I was pretty good at searches, then they discovered that I was really good at being a pump operator. I have been a volunteer firefighter for 16 years now.
Hazing—we have never hazed a member in our department ever…..not that I’m aware of.
My family is very supportive, although after hearing the pager go off in the middle of the night my daughter would love to smash it. They know how much it means to me and to our community to have volunteer firefighters.
I couldn’t imagine life without this group of brothers and sisters.
When I first joined, my family was worried that I could get hurt. When I explained all of the safety measures that are taken, they were quite impressed and don’t worry as much. They are very supportive and are proud that I am out there helping others.
Training isn’t harder than I thought it would be. You definitely want to have some strength. But you work within your skill range and you just push yourself to do better.
Everyone is a team player and if you are okay to enter a burning building (okayed as in you know what you are doing and you are trained to go inside), gender has nothing to do with it.
There is no hazing. You are another member of a family and you are respected because of that.
My family seems to think that I’m some big hero that does things that are impossible. And they are so impressed and supportive of my decision to become a volunteer firefighter. They always come to me if they have any questions about fire.
For some of us it’s in our blood, it’s a place to belong, a place where our friends are—for all of us, it’s a family.
As a woman firefighter the training is no different than the training for the men. Is it tough? Sure it is… for everybody! We train for the worst possible outcome with the best outcome in mind. It is physically and mentally demanding. At three o’clock in the morning while you are dragging around loaded hose lines and you hit a mental wall you have to push through cause there are people depending on you. When you feel that you have reached your physical limits another surge of energy comes from somewhere and again you push through.
As women we see as much of the action as the men! We go into the same burning building as they do, we carry the same equipment, and perform all of the same tasks. There are going to be things that we have to do differently than the men. We may carry something or someone a different way—because that is what works for us! We are treated as equal as the next guy!
Take your five most favourite uncles, six of your best cousins, two or three of “just like my dad,” throw in that big sister you never had (or in some cases.. never wanted), one motherly figure, and mix it all into a pot! It’s not something that is easily explained until you’re there, until you are a part of it.