Did you know that the majority of firefighters and fire departments in our country are volunteers? These everyday heroes are individuals trained to the same standard as career firefighters, and they volunteer their services while holding other primary occupations.
While volunteer firefighters may receive a modest pay on call or honorarium, it is not a liveable wage. Their reason for volunteering is far nobler—they do it in service of their community’s public health and safety.
With a pandemic, climate emergencies, and increasing knowledge of firefighting’s physical and mental health demands, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) wanted to know: how many volunteer firefighters do we have in Canada? To find out, the CAFC launched the Great Canadian Volunteer Firefighter Census. Over 1200 fire departments participated in the Census, representing over a third of the country’s volunteer fire departments.
The research estimated the total size of the population of volunteer firefighters in Canada at about 100,000 and found that about 32 percent of the country’s volunteer firefighters are over the age of 50, and about 11 percent are women. The Canadian Fire Service is striving to be more demographically representative.
“Anyone with the courage, commitment, and compassion to serve is welcome to take our training and become part of our team,” says Chief Peter Krich of Camrose, Alberta, head of the National Advisory Council of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. “Diversity and Inclusion are essential, and all members of the service understand their importance in our communities.”
The fire department’s role has evolved over recent years; beyond putting out fires, today’s fire departments have taken on the increased responsibility of responding to climate disasters, hazardous material incidents, and more. Nearly all volunteer firefighters have some role to play in wildfires, climate emergencies, vehicle extrication, emergency medical response, and industrial fire response.
“Our volunteer firefighters play a significant role in keeping communities safe,” shares Fire Chief Vince MacKenzie of Grand Falls Windsor, Newfoundland, head of the Answer the Call Committee. “That’s why our focus remains on building our network of volunteers and ensuring that they continue to bring their passion to our departments.”
These individuals train continuously and are ready to put them-selves in dangerous situations if they can keep their communities safe—it’s the kind of job that re-quires true passion.
In service of these everyday heroes, the CAFC is always looking for ways to not only give thanks to their volunteers but is also urging the federal government to prepare for the next generation. This includes incentives like modernizing the Volunteer Firefighter Tax Credit and a federal Joint Emergency Preparedness Program to make sure they can cover training and equipment for all types of fires in all types of departments.
Modernized definition volunteer firefighter: “A Volunteer Firefighter is someone who is available or on-call to perform fire services, emergency services, and non-emergency duties for a jurisdiction as needed. They may receive nominal remuneration for their time and generally have other occupations”
“Being a volunteer firefighter in one of Canada’s fire departments isn’t something you do; it’s something you are,” says Fire Chief and CAFC President John McKearney of Whistler, British Columbia. “Our volunteers are heroes, and their contributions are incredibly valuable to their communities.”
CAFC has a vital program called Answer the Call, which helps fire departments recruit volunteer firefighters. If you have a desire to contribute to keep your community safe or want to become a career fire-fighter, you should consider being a volunteer firefighter. Specific qualifications and training regulations vary by province, and volunteer firefighters are expected to train a certain amount of hours per month with their colleagues. Volunteering is also one of the best ways to get the necessary training and experience to be an attractive candidate for a career firefighting position. Many volunteer firefighters achieve other careers as well, as first responder life skills become significant assets to many professions inside and outside of emergency services.
Founded in 1909, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) is an independent, non-profit organization with a voluntary membership representing approximately 3,500 fire departments across Canada.