by Nicole Starker Campbell
For The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer
Medical first responses continue to make up the bulk of calls for firefighters in the County of Wetaskiwin.
Director of Emergency Services Mike Zajac says that about half of the calls county firefighters respond to are medical first response calls with outdoor fires, motor vehicle collisions, and alarms ringing making up the bulk of the other half.
In 2018 firefighters in the County of Wetaskiwin responded to 430 calls and by mid-September of 2019 year calls tallied 242. “We’re sitting at about half right now so I’d say we’re a little less than what we typically normally are,” Zajac says of the call volume.
In the last year Westakiwin county acquired some new firefighting equipment. The Millet Fire Department picked up a new command vehicle and South Pigeon Lake has a new side-by-side vehicle made available through fundraising.
This year the county hosted annual training events including a vehicle extrication day that takes every year in May, and includes fire departments from surrounding areas. “It’s a day where everybody gets together,” Zajac says. “There’s an opportunity to network with each other and exchange different techniques and we all learn that way.”
Zajac says the department also tries to conduct ice and water rescue exercises every spring and summer. County firefighters have responded to five or six water rescues on Pigeon Lake annually since the service began a couple of years ago.
Recruitment continues to be a challenge for smaller fire departments, including those in the County of Wetaskiwin. The lower population in rural areas and a lack of free time mean less people available to become members.
“I just think people are becoming more and more strapped for time and to add something else into the mix like joining the local fire department, which can each up a fair amount of time, makes it difficult for people,” Zajac says.
The director says the county departments are always actively recruiting and current members can be a great help attracting new firefighters. “We do have spouses within fire departments, or father and son, mother and daughter teams.”
The county is also fortunate to have some long-serving members who have been with their departments up to 30 years, including one firefighter with well over 40 years under his belt. “We’re pretty fortunate to have some very committed and dedicated people,” says Zajac.