The Lacombe Fire Department is looking for new members.
If any resident is the type of person who enjoys being challenged in a fast-paced, never repetitive environment, they should consider signing up as a volunteer firefighter, said Lacombe Fire Department Chief Ed van Delden.
“If you are interested in those types of things, this is the service club of choice if you will,” said van Delden.
Obviously, the Lacombe Fire Department covers everything within the corporate limits of the City of Lacombe. In addition, it also covers one of the five fire districts in Lacombe County, said van Delden. He added the Lacombe Fire Department often works closely with Eckville, Bentley, Clive, Alix, Mirror and the Blackfalds Fire Departments, the other departments within the county.
Van Delden said that the goal is to have 40 firefighters on the department at all times (though not necessarily on every shift), but added that the fire department has seldom been able to maintain this goal.
In practice, the fire department usually has between 30 and 40 members. Currently, there are 34 firefighters on the department.
There is some struggle with retaining firefighters as well, said van Delden. There is quite a bit of turnover, and in the next year van Delden will probably lose half a dozen firefighters to moves or other commitments. He added that this is typical of most volunteer fire departments in the province.
Some volunteer firefighters may even leave Lacombe to pursue firefighting as a full-time career. Van Delden said several of Lacombe’s past firefighters have gone to bigger centres like Edmonton or Calgary to receive further training and become full-time firefighters.
“A lot of them have moved on to make it a career.”
He is the only one of the Lacombe’s 34 firefighters who is paid for his position. Van Delden is also the only member who is a firefighter full-time.
There are three elements to the fire department. Each looks after a different need of the firefighters, those being physical, mental and social wellbeing.
The social side of things is looked after by the Lacombe Firefighters Association, a group that consists of the department’s members, but runs separately from the department itself.
While the two entities are separate, they are still closely connected as the teamwork and camaraderie that are gained from the fire department go hand in hand with the friendships made in the social aspect of the association.
“Lots of deep friendships are made on the fire department. In many cases, you are literally trusting your life to someone.”
Van Delden added that he believes a healthy association is essential to a successful department.
“There is nothing that one person can’t do here. It’s really a team kind of atmosphere.”
Education, which helps take care of the mental needs of firefighters, is also available from the Lacombe Fire Department. Firefighter training courses are available from the department and most are done in house. Van Delden added the department has sent firefighters to fire schools on occasion as well.
Mental strength is necessary to be a firefighter, he added. He said there are many situations that put quite a bit of mental strain on members and they must be equipped to deal with that.
Physical fitness, the third element of the department, also never hurts, said van Delden. He said the physical demands of firefighting are challenging and not always enjoyable.
“It’s hard dirty work.” He added that firefighting is not quite as glamorous as it is sometimes portrayed, but some people find the opportunities to challenge oneself an appealing aspect of the fire department.
On the other hand, some of the challenges of firefighting can deter individuals from joining, said van Delden. He added that firefighting often can seem like a disorganized operation to the outsider.
This isn’t actually true, said van Delden, but the fact that firefighters initially operate on very limited information makes it look this way. As such, individuals who do not adapt well to changing plans or those who always need to see the whole picture may not do well as firefighters, van Delden said.
“It’s not an activity that can be planned,” he said.
There is also a great deal of commitment that it takes to become a firefighter. Lacombe Fire Department works on a four-week rotation, with each firefighter being on call one week out of four. Van Delden said that during that week a firefighter is on call, they are expected to make every effort to attend any incidents the department is paged to.
Lacombe Fire Department’s fleet consists of seven vehicles, two engines, two rescue units, a tender (water tanker truck), a tower truck and a half-ton utility pickup.
While not all of Lacombe’s equipment is state-the-art, said van Delden, the department still manages quite well with its resources, which are quite good compared to many comparable municipalities.
For more information on volunteering, contact the Lacombe Fire Department at 403-782-0131.