Retaining volunteer firefighters is becoming more challenging for Sooke Fire Rescue, says Fire Chief Kenn Mount.
Eleven firefighters have left the department in the last two years – many with more than five years of experience – due to retirement, employment, leaving the community, or returning to school. The fire department needs to fill the positions with volunteers.
Ideally, Mount would like to have 55 firefighters on staff, including both career and volunteer members. The department has 42 members with eight career and 34 paid-on-call volunteers.
Volunteers generally commit between 20 to 30 hours per month, consisting of weekly training sessions and other duties.
According to Kimberly Quiros, spokesperson for National Volunteer Fire Council, a non-profit representing U.S. volunteer firefighters, Sooke’s issue is similar to what many other departments face in North America.
As a way to retain volunteers, many fire departments are offering special incentives, she said. For example, some American departments near university campuses offer live-in programs in exchange for a certain amount of volunteer hours per week. Others have a length of service award program.
“It’s the retention side of things we have to look at seriously and what we can do here differently,” Mount said, adding interest in volunteering for the department is strong. However, more volunteers are needed for Station 2 in Saseenos.
Recently, Sooke Fire Rescue graduated seven volunteer firefighters. The class included Malcolm Constantine, Carson Holmquist, Kurtis Horne, Hollie Krutz, Scott McMahon, Michelle Schultz and Erin Topelko.
This year’s recruiting class was held back more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said training officer Capt. Cam Norris Jones.
“This class did not lose a single member from when they were accepted into the program in November 2019. They are still as eager and engaged as they were when they first started,” Norris-Jones said.
“It’s a testament to those seven, and the fact when things got tough for them, they really banded together.”