Fire recruits arrive on scene
Five new recruits at the Merritt Fire Rescue Department are sweating through drills similar to what would be seen at a boot camp.
This intense training is designed to improve the ability of the firefighters to respond to blazes and other emergencies quickly and efficiently.
Work experience firefighter Matt Bloom is a long way from his home town of Aurora, Ont., but he said the Nicola Valley is as good a place as any to build his skills.
The summer heat has made some of the training activities difficult, but his uniform donning and offing time is improving.
“We’re getting our times down and I think the chief is getting happier,” he said, while taking a break after a drill. “When we first got here it was a little warm while we were doing the full training and getting on our jackets.”
Each recruit’s time is tracked and compared to spot individual progress and to see whose time is the one to beat — the target time is one minute to don and take off the uniform.
When they aren’t sweating, the recruits are housed in a trailer called a Britco that costs approximately $36,000 per year to operate.
“We make it work,” Bloom said of the tight quarters. “We’re all pretty close, so it’s easy to get along with everyone and we’re hanging out in the hall most of the time, so it’s pretty much just a sleeping quarter for us.”
The close proximity of the Britco to the fire hall improves response times in the middle of the night.
He said his most interesting call was a truck rollover on the Coquihalla Highway, early in the summer on a scorching day.
“We had to carry a guy up about 150 feet to get him back to the top so paramedics could work on him,” he recalled.
All the recruits are from Ontario, which has 18 firefighter academies. They will train in Merritt until March, unless they find find employment prior to completing the program.
In addition to the uniform drills, the recruits will participate in team-building drills, rescue response and interviewing, Fire Chief Dave Tomkinson said.
“We chose these five recruits out of 40 applications,” he noted. “If by any chance any of them are hired during training, we have some on the waiting list who can step in.”
The training program is a vital component of the department’s arsenal. Tomkinson said he estimates the work experience program has saved the City of Merritt $1.3 million that would have otherwise been spent on paid employees since the program began four years ago.
The Merritt Fire Rescue program is one of only three such programs throughout the country — all are located in B.C., with the others in Big White and in Sun Peaks.
Many of the calls the recruits will respond to are related to motor vehicle accidents, and much of their time is spent at the hall cleaning.
Merritt residents can expect to see the recruits around town, not only responding to calls, but also raising money for charities such as the BC Children’s Hospital and local non profits.
Two of last year’s six recruits have found employment, with the others in the hiring process.
The new team arrived at the beginning of July, four days after the last recruits left.