By Nicole Starker Campbell
For The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer
2019 has been a busy year for Wetaskiwin firefighters. Calls have increased, and so have the number of firefighters in the community.
Fire Chief Jamie Wilkinson took over the top job the department in April, and says responses are up compared to 2018.
Last year the fire department responded to 456 calls and Wilkinson says there’s been a significant increase in 2019. “Right now, if we keep up the pace, we’re going to be on target for 500 to 540 calls.”
Among the major incidents that Wetaskiwin firefighters responded to this year was the fire that destroyed the historic Rose Country Inn downtown. Two other fire departments helped to battle the blaze. “That would be a career fire for a lot of people,” Wilkinson says.
The next month, Wetaskiwin fought another major fire at Farm Animal Rescue and Rehoming Movement (FARMM) in which several animals were lost.
In September the department added 10 new recruits increasing the number of firefighters available to handle an increasing call volume to approximately 37.
The Wetaskiwin department lost an important member over the past year when firefighter James Gilbert passed away suddenly. He was well-known in the community and a great ambassador for the department.
On the horizon for Wetaskiwin fire is training for the new recruits, and some additions to the department. Plans are in the works to bring in a brand new rescue truck into service by the end of 2020. The chief also hopes to introduce a fire chaplain position into the department in the future.
The biggest challenge the department currently faces is availability for daytime calls. Wilkinson says that the economic downturn has meant that some members have had to seek work outside the community, decreasing the number of firefighters available locally during the day. As a result, the department relies heavily on those working within the city to respond to daytime calls. Cooperation from local employers to allow members to respond to those calls is key.
“For serious or major calls all of the local employers have been fantastic,” Wilkinson says. “They’ve been wonderful so we want to keep that going and the frequency of calls is not going down, it’s starting to increase on us so we just want to make sure we have available manpower.”
The Wetaskiwin Fire Department will be visiting area schools during Fire Prevention Week talking to students about fire safety. The main message Chief Wilkinson wants to get out the entire community is that working smoke alarms save lives. “Emphasis on ‘working,’” he says.