A number of Saskatchewan communities are a little bit safer today thanks to a full weekend of training in Estevan.
The members of the Estevan Fire Rescue Service hosted the annual Saskatchewan Volunteer Firefighters Association Spring Fire School at various locations throughout the city. The event was an opportunity for the province’s firefighters to receive everything from the most basic of training to advanced courses on new techniques and equipment.
Doug Lapchuk, the president of the SVFFA and also deputy chief of the Balgonie Fire Department, said the school was a great event for all involved and credited the work of the host department.
“This fire school has been phenomenal, Estevan came through with shining stars, we can say, because we have STARS here,” said Lapchuk who was alluding to the presence of the STARS air ambulance, which was also part of the weekend training.
“We had well over 200 people registered and a lot of really good education. We had everything from the basics — firefighter kindergarten if you will — all the way up to instructor training.”
Dale Feser, the deputy chief of the host department, was equally pleased with how the weekend went.
“These guys provide top-notch instruction,” said Feser who noted the presence of the STARS helicopter and staff were a welcome addition to the event. “It’s the perfect opportunity to embrace this because this is the largest target audience they will be able to see at one given time and these are the people that will be setting up the landing zones for the particular events.”
The firefighters made good use of the Energy City’s facilities over the three-day event with classroom training at the Estevan Comprehensive School and Saskatchewan Energy Training Institute. The actual hands-on training, which included everything from vehicle extrication and vehicle fires to how to properly search and ventilate a building, was held at the City yard and a location near the water treatment plant, respectively.
Feser said the generosity of the community played a big role in the success of the event as a handful of businesses and individuals donated vehicles for the hands-on training. The home and building used near the treatment plant were also donated to them.
“I’ve been hearing nothing but positive feedback. We were fortunate enough to provide some good houses for these people to work in and really get into some meat and potatoes type courses. The ventilation, they were able to get right up on the roof and cut ventilation holes.
“A lot of times when houses are donated, it’s for non-destructive training and they go through the theory portions. With this, they got to go through the full evolutions and see how labour intensive it is to do this type of job. We were also fortunate enough to gain access to 12 vehicles. A portion of them were used for vehicle firefighting, another portion was used for extrication and we secured a bus for school bus extrication. It’s phenomenal training … we don’t know what we are getting ourselves into, so we have to train for the worst case scenarios in everything.”
Lapchuk said the training is extensive and goes a long way towards improving the province’s corps of volunteer firefighters.
“I have been involved with the SVFFA as an instructor for the past six years and in those six years I have seen a huge increase, not only in our numbers at the specialized courses, but in our beginning courses. We have a lot of new, excited volunteer firefighters that are getting their training and starting things off on the right path.”
Lapchuk added the school is also a great chance for firefighters to come together and share stories and ideas, all with an aim of helping one another serve their communities better.
“As with all firefighters, we always have a story about something. It’s usually where somebody will have an issue and somebody else will say ‘I did this in that case’ so it is a lot of networking and a lot of good work.”
The weekend also included a trade show where vendors from throughout the province showed off some of the newest equipment in firefighting. Lapchuk noted the show is another important component of the weekend as it gives the various departments a chance to see what is out there for new gear.
“There are a lot of new, lightweight products out there. We have used the same tool for years but it has now become lighter, more affordable. Some sales probably occur because of the trade show, but it is more to get our people up to speed on what is out there.”
As a whole, Lapchuk said the state of Saskatchewan’s volunteer departments is strong. Like any volunteer group, they do have issues with attracting members, but he said in recent years, they have noticed an increase in firefighters.
“We are having a lot of people aging out of the departments and in small communities, there aren’t a lot of people who will step forward and step up. We have seen an increase in the last three schools of our 1000 level numbers. We’ve got over 200 fire departments registered with the SVFFA and it is growing all the time. It’s been nothing but good.”
Feser added that he would like to thank the members of the Estevan department and their spouses for all of the hard work and time they spent planning for the school. The local firefighters were also busy throughout the weekend working at the various events and providing support for the training session.