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Volunteer firefighting gateway to a rewarding career path

Posted on October 12, 2023 by Taber Times

By Trevor Busch
Taber Times

For a volunteer fire department, recruitment never stops. And the Taber Fire Department is no exception.

“We still hire in the spring and the fall, two recruitments a year,” said Steve Swarbrick, assistant fire chief. “We pick up an average three or four per hire, and then just through attrition some of them leave some of our other members leave. So we’re still holding in mid-30s, so the membership is healthy. We can go up to 40 if we need to. The recruitment has been really good, we’ve had a really good response from a diverse group. We’ve got Filipinos, Fijians, East Indians – recruitments are picking up quite a bit. Females are at 35 per cent.”

Assistant chief Amy West pointed out that virtually anyone can become a volunteer firefighter for the department. 

“With the right attitude, drive and training, everyone can do this job, and everyone is welcomed and accepted in the Taber Fire Department. Currently, 35 per cent of Taber firefighters are female – 30 per cent higher than the industry average. In addition to the gender inclusivity of the TFD, our team also comprises a broad and diverse group of individuals from various backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities who bring different perspectives and strengths to the job. The variety and differences among our people are what make us such a well balanced and strong team.”

Swarbrick says current volunteer membership numbers are around 34, which is healthy, but they are always seeking out more new faces. The cutoff is age 18, as the department currently doesn’t have a junior firefighter program.

“You can apply online and there’s also paper copies here, and we’re more than willing to talk about it. If I see somebody I talk to them about whether they’ve ever given it any thought, encourage them to get their name in and then it sits in the file until we do the hiring and then we phone to say, ‘Are you still interested?’ Then they come down for an interview and physical fitness test. Don’t let anyone panic about that, it’s can you push and pull stuff. It’s basic physical fitness. It’s modelled around CPAP tests that they use for career departments but it’s not unachievable for an average person. And once they do that, they sit down and have an orientation weekend where they learn how to get dressed, all the basic stuff, because I always say public doesn’t know that you’re a firefighter that started yesterday. They’re expected to know some things so we teach them the basics. They have an interview with the chief and a way they go. It’s exciting for people, it’s a new world for everybody. A lot of people are thinking about the fire department or a career.”

Swarbrick would like to see more engagement at the high school level which might help with recruitment numbers.

“We do work closely with the schools and do as much as we can for them or with them. I’ve gone in and actually taught an arson presentation, through the forensics class at W.R. Myers. They’ve had me in for a couple of years and it’s very interesting to the kids. We seem to get everybody on school tours through kindergarten to Grade 2-ish, and then we don’t see them again. It’s hard to get into the junior high and high school curriculums, and get exposure to the kids about the fire service. In my career, now 25 years, that’s one of the things that I wish had happened.”

Don’t knock it until you try it, says Swarbrick.

“The next one will be February. We encourage people to get their applications in. Come and ask us questions. If they’re interested come anytime to talk to us. And as I said, that application just goes into the file and then we phone just before the recruitment opens again and see if you’re still interested. One of the things I encourage them, is if you’ve ever thought about it, try it. The way our system works, it’s not like anyone’s out a whole bunch of money or anything until they’ve tried it. If you go through the process, that orientation weekend, if you decided it’s not your thing, that’s okay. At least you tried, if you ever thought about it, you should step forward. We have members from all walks of life. When we go on a call, we may have an electrician with us, a fast food worker. You never know what we might have. Everybody brings their expertise to the call, and that works very well. We get a lot more diversity and knowledge that makes a big difference.”

Most that try their hand at the profession aren’t disappointed, says West.

“Being a firefighter is a great way to contribute to your community and help fellow citizens. It is also a fantastic opportunity for self growth and development. Firefighting is both a demanding and rewarding job that will challenge you physically, intellectually, and emotionally. In addition, you will learn new knowledge and skills, form new friendships, and play a vital role in enhancing the community’s safety.”

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