Firefighters are usually the first emergency responders to arrive on scene and the last to leave. They dedicate their lives to public service, and here in Ladysmith the local fire departments — Ladysmith Fire Rescue and North Oyster Fire Department — are volunteer.
Over the years, fire departments have moved away from their traditional role in fighting fires. They now respond to all emergency situations. Firefighters play a pivotal role in responding to motor vehicle accidents, medical emergencies like cardiac arrests and overdoses, steep slope rescues, among many other calls.
Ladysmith fire chief Ray Delcourt said that firefighters at Ladysmith Fire Rescue are on call 24/7, 365 days a year. When the pagers go off, and the firefighters are around, they have to respond.
“There’s a lot of that dedication. It takes them away from their homes, away from their families. They could be eating dinner, called out, they drop their fork and away they go,” Delcourt said. “Christmas Day, New Year’s Day dinners, if you get the call you could be gone for hours.”
The only information available to firefighters is what’s given when they get dispatched. Aside from that, they don’t know what kind of situation they’re walking in to.
“Firefighters could be ten to two in the morning sound asleep in bed. Ten minutes later they’re on the highway extricating a trapped person from a vehicle… It’s hard on the guys, and not only that but it’s hard on their partners because if it’s going to wake you up, it’s going to wake them up too, because most pagers are right beside the bed,” Delcourt said.
Despite the challenges and hardships firefighters face, they put in the work because they want to serve their community.
For Kristopher Hill, fire prevention officer at North Oyster Fire Department, working with the fire department has been a lifelong dream.
“I remember the firefighters coming to my school, putting their gear on, it just did something for me. Every time the firetrucks drove by as a little kid I was pressed up against the window. I always wanted to be there and see what was going on,” Hill said.
Hill has been with North Oyster for nine years, as is coming up on ten years. He’s responsible for a lot of the training rookie members receive with the department. As fire prevention officer he takes part in many community events, and attends educational presentations at schools. Hill hopes to become a career firefighter after his time with North Oyster.
Hill said the fire department tries to be third on the list of priorities for their members behind family, and work. When the pager goes off, third tends to jump into first.
“A lot of our members families are very welcoming people. Since we got our new firehall built we hold a lot of barbecues and dinners to thank the families for their sacrifices, because they realize at a moment’s notice the pager will go off, and they just have to leave,” Hill said. “Without that support at home it’s very hard.”
In their capacity as volunteers, the firefighters also have regular jobs and schedules that don’t always line up with fire service. Andrew Seruton has been with North Oyster for six years, and became a registered nurse five months ago after his fire service prompted a career change.
“When I first joined the fire department they said you need to have your priorities straight if you want to be successful here… now that work is a lot more involved I have less time for the firehall than I did as a student,” Seruton said. “Now working I have a rigid schedule, it’s been more challenging recently to put in the time I want to here. Being a volunteer, they’re very understanding of the fact that not everybody is available 40 hours a week to come to the firehall.”
Seruton has taken on another new role as the first responder trainer for North Oyster. With recent changes in personnel at North Oyster, he’s also one of the more senior members at the firehall.
“Being asked to take on these extra responsibilities, even though it was welcomed, is a little surprising at times… I’m in that position now that I need to start doing different things, more with supporting new recruits into growing into their roles as opposed to being the guy at the front,” he said.
One of the newest recruits at North Oyster is Justin Dault of Yellowpoint farms. When he moved with his family to Yellowpoint he had no interest in serving at the firehall, but after coming out to Tuesday night practice, he was hooked.
“It’s an addictive kind of thing for me too. I’m one of the older guys, but one of the newer guys. I couldn’t imagine not doing it now,” Dault said.
“What kid doesn’t grow up dreaming about a firefighter?” He added. “I’m living the dream.”
Although they are regarded by many in the community as heroes, the firefighters of Ladysmith Fire Rescue and North Oyster Fire Department don’t think of their work as heroic. To them, it’s just another day at work.
Both Ladysmith Fire Rescue and North Oyster Fire Department are recruiting new members. Any community members with an interest in fire service are encouraged to contact the respective fire departments for more information. All training and equipment is provided free of charge. The only requirement is a commitment of time, and a dedication to serving the community.