The South Pigeon Lake Fire Department is very familiar with two sounds nowadays: false alarms going off, and vehicles crashing.
Chief Wayne Benson said false alarms are the number one call-out of the busy department. “Number one is alarms, house alarms. We’ve had a lot of false alarms. We’ve had a ton of them,” said the chief by phone Sept. 20.
He noted cooking incidents are at play and also the cottage factor. Lots of times no one is at the cabin, high moisture that builds up near the lake sets off alarms to which the fire department responds.
“Right behind that would be accidents,” said Benson. When asked what factors are contributing to the high number of motor vehicle collisions, Benson said several members of the fire department have been talking that over. In 2015, a new record of 81 calls was made while this year the number of calls stands at 109, and there’s still months to go.
Benson said it seems many of the MVCs South Pigeon Lake Fire Department is called to involve driver distraction or carelessness.
The department did do some old-fashioned firefighting too; last spring, when the Fort Mac fires were burning, many people were concerned about dry conditions here. South Pigeon Lake helped fight grass fires that threatened local buildings. He said causes of the fires are not known, but suspected cigarette butts and possibly sparks from trailers.
In addition, the department had some unusual call-outs, including one for a carbon monoxide problem.
Benson, who is a 42 year veteran firefighter with 15 years experience as chief, just became South Pigeon Lake chief last January. He said community engagement and public awareness are two goals he’s very interested in. He said fire hazard awareness in the cottage areas, emergency response plans, familiarity with structures in the area, cooperative exercises and much more are all activities he’d like to see.
As far as training, he said South Pigeon Lake has moved to back-to-basics training, including getting firefighters familiar with how houses are built now. Benson said the design and materials used in houses may allow a house to burn faster or emit dangerous fumes.
Training to handle MVCs also involves learning how modern vehicles are engineered; for example, working with a smashed electric car poses some electricity risk. “Things in the last few years have changed a ton,” said Benson.
The fire chief said the department received a new rescue unit in 2015 and is looking to get a new pumper truck in 2017. The department has also received approval to begin water and ice rescue training. Both South Pigeon Lake and Mulhurst Bay will get the equipment.
The department now has 23 to 25 members and Benson said a junior members program yielded great results. High school youth showed interest in firefighting. The chief said retention and attendance is great.
He also noted the community has been great supporters of South Pigeon Lake Fire Department. “Our community support has risen unbelievably in the past year,” said the chief.
“A huge thank you to all of the businesses and people who’ve supported us over the past year.”