Dashwood Volunteer Fire Department chief Nick Acciavatti said lack of sustainable employment and affordable housing has an impact on volunteer fire departments when recruiting for firefighters. — Lauren Collins photo

Rural fire departments in Parksville Qualicum Beach struggle to find firefighters

Coombs-Hilliers recruiting drive Oct. 4

With fire prevention week coming up, a number of local volunteer fire departments are hoping to use their open houses to help recruit more volunteer firefighters.

Dashwood, Bow Horn Bay, Coombs-Hilliers and Parksville departments have all put callouts recently in hopes of recruiting more volunteers. Errington Volunteer Fire Department’s lastest recruitment period ended Sept. 23.

In rural areas such as Dashwood, said fire chief Nick Acciavatti, a lack of volunteers is common. He said it’s one of the biggest issues facing volunteer fire services.

“Honestly, I think it’s the lack of sustainable employment in the area, and housing costs are quite high,” Acciavatti said.

While the rural areas get a lot of good people who would want to join, Acciavatti said, they can have a hard time finding somewhere to rent, or they don’t make enough money living here because there aren’t a lot of well-paying jobs or careers.

“We end up getting some good people, but then they end up finding work that pays well in other communities that’s a little bit more affordable to live in and they make a little bit more money there,” he said. “We’ve lost a substantial amount of people here just due to that one fact.”

Acciavatti, who has been with the Dashwood department for 25 years — the last 12 as chief — said he sees about 85 to 90 per cent of the volunteers moving out of district for work. Acciavatti said living in a retirement community, with no major industries other than tourism, “there’s nothing here to attract young- to middle-age families here.”

“When we have governments that seem to not know how to support bringing these types of industries (industrial, manufacturing) in, it makes it really hard for young people to get established and grow up here, live here and afford to live here,” Acciavatti said. This problem of recruiting volunteer firefighters, Acciavatti said, has been ongoing for the last 10 years.

“It’s not getting better. I think it’s shifting the other way, to the point where some of the departments are . There will come a time where we’ll have to look at hiring additional career firefighters to answer those calls.”

Bow Horn Bay fire chief Geoff MacIntosh said a lack of volunteer firefighters could in turn affect the community. Without adequate fire protection, the community’s insurance rates could increase.

MacIntosh referenced the Fire Underwriters Survey, which is a fire insurance grading system. The overview of the grading process includes risk assessment , water supply, fire safety control and fire department which includes apparatus, staffing and training.

“If a fire department has a fully qualified staff that’s operating 24 hours a day, to provide all the services, and all the residents are protected by hydrants, that would be a Class 1 fire department. So the insurance rates tend to be low,” said MacIntosh, adding that in a community where there isn’t enough fire protection, insurance rates can be very high.

Upcoming open houses, recruitment drives

• Coombs-Hilliers Volunteer Fire Department is hosting its recruitment night Wednesday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. at the fire hall (3241 Alberni Hwy.). There will be hall and truck tours as well as a dinner.

• Dashwood Volunteer Fire Department is hosting its recruiting drive and open house at the fire hall (230 Hobbs Rd., Qualicum Beach) Sunday, Oct. 15 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be hands-on activities for people interested in volunteering, as well as kids’ activities and a barbecue lunch.

Recruitment applications can be found at www.dashwoodvfd.com/recruiting.

• Bow Horn Bay is hosting its open house and recruiting drive Saturday, Oct. 14 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the fire hall (220 Lions Way, Qualicum Bay). There will be a kitchen fire safety demo, trucks on display, the firefighter chili challenge and a care safety seat clinic. New this year is the adult firefighter challenge, where people can try out some tasks firefighters are trained to do such as setting up a ladder, pulling a hose and dragging a victim to safety.

Recruitment applications can be found at www.bowhornbayvfd.ca/members.

• Errington Volunteer Fire department is hosting its open house Oct. 15 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the fire hall (960 Errington Rd.). People can meet the firefighters and the board of directors. There is also a jellybean contest in which people can guess the amount of jellybeans to be entered to win a cord of wood.

• Qualicum Beach Fire Department’s open house is Oct. 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the fire hall (130 Rupert Rd.). There will be tours, demonstrations, activities as well as hot dogs, refreshments and fire safety tips.

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