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24 firefighters provide 24-7 response

Four new recruits have joined Innisfil Fire and Rescue, bringing the full-time firefighter complement to 24 and ensuring a minimum of four firefighters on duty across the town 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Four new recruits have joined Innisfil Fire and Rescue, bringing the full-time firefighter complement to 24 and ensuring a minimum of four firefighters on duty across the town 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The new hires ensure the department can meet suggested staffing levels identified in the Fire Master Plan adopted by council. All four are former volunteers.

"They range in experience from a station captain with 15 years to a guy with about two years as a volunteer," said acting deputy fire chief Tim McCallum.

"They have all been to fires already and we realy have a huge amount of experience here."

Focus now turns to adding to bulking up the volunteer ranks. A total of 96 volunteer firefighters are assigned across all four stations (24 per station), who are recruited as needed. Volunteers are paid approximately $24 per hour with a three-hour minimum for emergency calls.

Volunteers will always be required to augment the numbers for serious motor vehicle collisions involving extrication or structure fires, says deputy fire chief Tom Raeburn.

In 2014, council approved the hiring of four more full-time firefighters — bringing the total up to 16 — that were assigned to day-time hours. That put the minimum staffing level to four during the day and two during evening and overnight hours.

McCallum joined the Innisfil service as a volunteer more than 20 years ago. He arrived with extensive experience fighting forest fires with the Ministry of Natural Resources.

He says the job has changed at a fast pace and a hearty training program is needed to keep firefighters at the top of their game.

"It is a job that really relies on a lot of training and a lot of practice ... dedication to the task," he said. "You can't be complacent."

Newbies rely on experienced colleagues as they learn the ropes and gain practical experience.

They responded to over 1,900 calls in 2015 and McCallum says he expects to meet or eclipse that number this year.

The majority of calls are medical assists, but Innisfil has its fair share of car crashes, gas leaks and structure fires.

Two rescue trucks are manned by full-timers and volunteers are assigned to each of the town's four stations. They are paged to respond to calls and are expected to respond to at least 30 per cent of those calls.

It's a reality for a fairly rural community and can be a challenge since a large percentage of Innisfil residents are commuters. The volunteer pool includes shift workers and retirees who are free to respond to daytime calls and others who may only be in the town on nights and weekends.

Twenty years ago, the dynamics were much different, McCallum says.

"When I started we had 10 out of 20 guys who lived and worked in the town ... maybe farming," he said. "Now that number is just two or three and it can be a challenge."

Station 2 is named for the late Craig Hofland, who served with Lefroy Fire Station #2 for over 30 years. He was died in 2012 from multiple myeloma, a cancer of bone marrow has been linked to exposure to toxic smoke.

The new $4.2 million, 11,200 sq. ft. building opened late last year, the new headquarters is centrally located to provide effective coverage for the municipality, and equipped to provide training in all aspects of firefighting.

As the town grows and diversifies, so does the fire service.

"We have firefighters of all shapes and sizes," McCallum said. "Gone are the days when you had to lift 400 pounds to join. Now it really is more about working on a team."

The four new recruits will complete a two-week intensive training program on Friday and start attending calls right away.




Robin MacLennan

About the Author: Robin MacLennan

Robin MacLennan has been a reporter, photographer and editor for the daily media in Barrie, across Simcoe County and Toronto for many years. She is a proud member of the Barrie community.
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