Fire chiefs concerned over new report detailing drop in members, aging equipment

Community members helping community members. That’s the motto of the Headingley Fire Department and the reason they’re are able to operate.

“Most people who join the department, do enjoy it,” fire chief John Sparham said. “It gives them a good sense of community. We have 35 members right now.”

The Headingley Fire Department averages about one call a day.

Sparham says that’s not enough to justify a full-time fire hall, so a paid-on-call service is how the community manages emergency responses, similar to how many other rural areas across Canada operate.

“Without the volunteers in suburban and rural settings, you wouldn’t have a fire department,” Sparham said.

However, new data from the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs is showing “problematic trends” impacting both rural and municipal fire departments.

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“We have a continued decrease of firefighters in this country, the aging of our equipment and most importantly a lack of coordination and cooperation between all of the disciplines in the fire sector,” said Ken McMullen, president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and a fire chief of Red Deer, Alberta.

What is concerning chiefs even more is the data showing 9,500 volunteer fire fighters left the sector in 2023.

McMullen says the dangers of the career could be pushing people away.

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“All of the rise in cancers that are being linked back specifically in firefighting and further to that, the mental health challenges,” McMullen said.

In a statement to Global News, the Manitoba government says it continues to support firefighters in the province through various initiatives, including education through the Manitoba Emergency Services College and financial grants through the Office of the Fire Commissioner to help build firefighter capacity.

McMullen says fire chiefs are also seeking help at the federal level including increasing the volunteer fire fighter tax credit, re-implement the joint emergency response program and create a national fire administration.

These are changes chief Sparham is also hopeful for as his department continues to answer the call.

“There’s a lot of good people in our community and they enjoy the challenge and responsibly to be there when people need them,” Sparham said.

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