Thinking that the TBL’s team of 30 dedicated volunteer firefighters was due for some well-deserved recognition for the serious commitment they make for the sake of our safety, Tempo sat down with Ross Clarkson, the assistant chief of the town’s Department of Fire and Public Safety.
Clarkson had been a TBL volunteer firefighter for over 20 years before receiving a permanent position in 2018. After Chief Pierre Laplante retired at the end of 2017, the town restructured to share the administrative costs of the Fire and Public Safety with Sutton. One Director, along with an Assistant Director in each town, take care of all the day-to-day business, including prevention.
Signing up to be a volunteer firefighter is not a decision to be taken lightly. There are 360 hours of training to complete starting with 30 hours of basic safety training. This training is done mostly at night and on weekends since the volunteers have day jobs.
TBL invests in these recruits by paying for their hours of training. A proper screening is done prior to training to make sure the recruits are aware of the expectations. The support of employers and families is vital to making their commitment work. The trainees can start assisting on calls before their training is complete: traffic control, changing air bottles in the rehab center, or by handling equipment and tools. Once training is completed, a volunteer is on call 24/7. To meet the government requirements to keep training current, the team meets on the first Wednesday evening of every month for a fire practice where the focus will be on a particular type of intervention.
Volunteers are paid for intervention calls. They also participate in equipment maintenance at the station. “This maintenance work is an excellent way to keep the team engaged” says Clarkson. Strong teamwork is vital to the success of the unit.
As for future volunteers, Clarkson says “Recruiting is more and more challenging as there are increasing opportunities that attract young people away from volunteering.” Ideal candidates are ones firmly rooted in the community. Clarkson is pleased that four new cadets, between the ages of 16-22, have been onboarded since November 2020. Clarkson maintains that the best way to recruit is to showcase the work they do during career day visits at local schools, as well as with the annual Fire Station Open House. “There is more reason now than ever to feel proud of being a firefighter,” Clarkson feels.
What has been the impact of the pandemic on the fire department? Well, with more people in the area and people spending more time at home, there has been an increase in calls – often close to one a day in the last year versus 225/year before the pandemic. Fortunately, the team has not been affected by a COVID-19 outbreak. Also, of course, the team has had to adapt to new sanitization protocols and training on zoom.
If a firefighting career interests you, contact the town at 450-243-6111.