Fire chief ‘worrying’ about recruitment

NNSL file photo Fire Chief Ross Potter: more volunteers needed for Hay River Fire Department.

NNSL file photo
Fire Chief Ross Potter: more volunteers needed for Hay River Fire Department.

Fire Chief Ross Potter is concerned about the number of volunteers with the Hay River Fire Department.

During a presentation to town council on March 29, he was asked how many volunteers are currently on the department.

“We’re down to about 25 right now,” said Potter, noting that a normal number would be about 30.

Coun. Steve Anderson asked what would be a critical number of volunteers for the department.

“We’re there,” replied Potter. “I’m worrying now.”

The fire chief said the department is recruiting, pointing to a couple of potential fire department volunteers working at the hospital.

“We’ll be signing them up,” he told council. “We’ve got another mine guy that wants to join. We should be back up to 30 here very quickly.”

Potter said most of the recruitment is by word of mouth from the firefighters themselves, although other recruitment is sometimes done through the media or trade shows.

“I know this summer we’d like to do an open house at the fire training school so people could see us doing the stuff we do the best,” he added.

Potter said that, in the past, the department has lost some volunteer members to burnout.

“We do keep a very close eye and we’re always talking to our guys, checking on them, to make sure that they’re OK,” he said. “And we’ve only lost a couple over the last few years due to burnout.”

The fire chief said that, in 2015, fire department members spent 5,009 volunteer hours performing ambulance and fire related duties, and the service operates in a fiscally responsible manner.

Potter was speaking to council in a wide-ranging presentation about the overall protective services department, which he leads.

Along with the fire department and its ambulance service, protective services include emergency measures, the bylaw department and the department of safety for town employees.

“The bylaw department is now educating, rather than prosecuting, saving us all kinds of money on lawyers,” Potter told council. “Also, I believe it saved council, the mayor and SAO all kinds of complaints from the general public, which I think is a step in the right direction. The bylaw department is an educational department, not a prosecuting department anymore.”

Mayor Brad Mapes agreed with that, saying it is better to work with people and figure out ways to solve issues.

Potter also noted the wildfires last year gave the town a true opportunity to work with the Territorial Emergency Response Committee.

“As a group we put together a plan for the mass evacuation of Hay River to Yellowknife should we ever have to do it,” he said. “If anything came out of last year’s wildfires, that is a positive.”

–Paul Bickford