by Stephen Dafoe
Sitting behind his new desk at the Don Found Fire Station, Morinville Fire Chief Brad Boddez does some preparatory work for the weekly training session, an opportunity to spend the evening working with some of the department’s volunteer firefighters.
Eighty per cent of Alberta’s firefighters serve their departments in a volunteer capacity, and while a number of departments, including Parkland County, are struggling to find volunteers to fill the ranks, Chief Boddez currently has 47 volunteer firefighters on the roster.
Boddez took over from former Fire Chief Ron Cust about six months ago. Both chiefs have enjoyed a fire hall full of dedicated volunteers who drop what they are doing to answer the call of duty.
“I’ve got great support from the members,” Chief Boddez said, adding his first six months on the job have been interesting, challenging and rewarding. “Ron, our former chief, had done such a great job, so it was an easy transition – a nice transition – to step into what he has lead. With the executive that we have and the general membership that we have, it’s been a great experience.”
Volunteerism backbone of department
Boddez has served as a firefighter for 28 years, both as a volunteer in Morinville and a full time firefighter in Edmonton. During that time he has seen a lot of firefighters come through the ranks, many of those going on to become full-time professional firefighters like himself. Whether volunteer or full-time, the characteristics are the same.
“It’s always that key drive that they have, that motivation and commitment to the community,” Chief boddez said. “It’s been fantastic over the years. We’re fortunate to have a supportive community and have a lot of people interested that we can staff 40 to 50 people for the department. We have great equipment, great apparatus. That’s a big plus.”
The chief said responsibility is key within the department. “We are a family so we rely on each other,” he said. “Reliability and dependability is key. There is a unique bond that we have, so being a big team player is key. It’s that family kind of orientation.”
Important service to the community
Though the department and so many in the province are volunteer run, Boddez is quick to point out that does not mean an inferior service. “There are no volunteer fires. Fires burn just as hot in volunteer departments as they do in full-time departments,” he said. “The dedication and the commitment are just as much here as it is in any other departments that are around.”
In his time in Morinville he has seen at least a dozen firefighters move on to become full-time firefighters elsewhere. Currently, four of Morinville’s 47 volunteers fight fires elsewhere as career firefighters in Edmonton. That could soon rise as high as six. “They gain so much valuable experience here,” Boddez said. “When we are little we want to be a fireman. When we join a department like this and you see what we do, what’s all involved, and what can be done; it pushes people to move forward and making it their full-time profession.
It is a process that occurred for Boddez himself. The chief started at the department when he was in high school and applied to Edmonton to become a professional firefighter right after graduation. He didn’t make it his first time out and decided to pursue a career in education instead, ultimately teaching in Morinville for 11 years and continuing to volunteer with the Morinville Department.
Boddez sees his years teaching at Vanier and Primeau as valuable in his present and past positions with the department. “I’ve moved up the ranks within this department from firefighter to lieutenant, to captain, to training officer, deputy and now chief,” he said. “My education background helped. We do a lot of teaching here in the fire services as well.”
Recruiting an important part of process
Part of the Morinville Fire Department’s success in keeping a full complement of firefighters is training and recruiting. The department holds two recruiting sessions each year – one in the spring and one in the fall. Boddez said the fall recruiting program is about to get under way shortly and the Department has already begun their Student Training Program at Morinville Community High School. Orientation was held last week at MCHS and applications closed Oct. 8. “Our first year we had 11 [students],” Boddez said, adding the program is open to students aged 16 to 18, while the community recruitment program is open to residents 18 and older. “We’re shooting for four or five students and probably another four or five from the community.”
Boddez said firefighters train each Wednesday evening from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the fire station. New recruits do some additional training on Sunday evenings as well for the first few months. Beyond that, firefighters are on call 24/7 in shifts and are alerted to emergency situations instantly by text and email. “Now the communication is a lot better and getting the information out to the firefighters is key,” Boddez said.
With the influx of students through the Student Training Program, combined with firefighters with as much as 41 years of service, Boddez is pleased with the dedication and expertise within his department. “There’s such a wide range of members that we can draw from. It’s been fantastic.”
Applications for volunteering with the Morinville Fire Department are available from the fire hall. For more information on the Morinville Fire Department visit www.morinvillefire.com.