BUCHANS, NL – The Buchans Volunteer Fire Department (BVFD) has a membership of about 20 volunteers, with Mike Piller at the helm as chief since Oct. 6.
Piller was acting fire chief since February 2017 when past chief Dale Piercey retired.
Over the past 10 months, the BVFD has been active within the community, and not just fighting fires. Members participate in parades and light the fire works at celebrations including Canada Day, Come Home Year, the Lakeside Academy Parking Lot Party, and the recent James Hornell Boys and Girls Club Halloween family night.
These volunteers are certainly visible throughout the community, says Piller. “When I took over in February I set an agenda for things I wanted to focus on, and one of them was community engagement,” he said.
“We are not getting a volume of calls, so people don’t see us in action.”
This year the department is ramping up its community engagement, and showing its pride, visible on members’ BVFD-crested jackets.
“It was more about building team pride and connecting as a group,” said Piller. “It’s getting us out there, letting the public see who the actual firefighters are, and making that connection.”
Students from Kindergarten to Grade 3 at Lakeside Academy got a first-hand look at what these valued volunteers do while on a field trip to the fire hall during Fire Prevention Week.
Students saw the pumper truck in action, watched the Jaws of Life in operation, and saw all the clothing and equipment firefighters need to do their jobs.
Piller said he was happy with the result.
“Obviously we like working with kids and they had a blast,” he said. “That connects us, and they’ll remember that they had fun, and we can sneak some messages about fire safety in at the same time.”
Firefighter training is a big priority in the BVFD. Piller attended fire school in Clarenville earlier this year, completing his Firefighter Level I exams.
“We’ve really pushed it in the last couple of years for training,” he said. “Actual certified courses within our group are very low until a few years ago. Since 2015 we’ve really started pushing training, getting at least the minimum they are required to have for their basic firefighter skills.”
In 2016, five members started doing the Firefighter Level I, which Piller said is an in-depth view of skills firefighters need. Due to work and other family issues, Piller was the only member able to complete the practical portion of the course in Clarenville. He plans to budget for members to attend the rest of the training next year.
“The more people we can get down, get trained and get these courses, they can bring it back and teach (the rest of) our group.”
The department also runs its own training. Recently members were involved in Jaws of Life and pumper truck training.
“We’re trying to get more members comfortable with using the equipment,” said Piller. “It’s about getting people proficient and comfortable.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are working away, so the more proficient (everyone is) the better. We can’t take the risk of (those trained) being at work and us being here with people who are a little bit nervous.
Piller congratulated all who were nominated and accepted positions for the four-year term along with him in October, including assistant Fire Chief Jeremy Chippett, 2nd Fire Chief Charlotte Peddle; Cpt. Jody Chippett; Cpt. and secretary Robyn Chippett; Lt. Stephen Hiscock; Lt. Jon Hobbs; and treasurer Glenn Hennessey.
“I have no doubt they will serve the department and the community to the best of their abilities,” said Piller.
When it comes to building membership, there has to be enough equipment available for everyone. Acquiring new gear is a priority, said the chief.
“There is a lot of interest coming from the community,” Piller says. “People are seeing us now, they’re excited and saying, ‘I want to be a part of it.’ So, our big issue now is equipment.”
Recruiting new members, especially in light of work and family commitments, is essential, says Pilley.
“A lot of these small communities – it’s hard. You’ve got people that are working away, so even if you have 20 or 30 people in your fire department, you could have 50 to 60 per cent of them away working at any given time.
“You don’t know who is coming to a call. It is sort of scary from our standpoint. The more people that we can get on the department (will build) a team that is able to respond and have the right the amount of people at a call.”
On that front Piller is glad for the close proximity of two neighbouring towns. Buchans has a mutual aid agreement with Buchans Junction and Millertown, “so you’ve got that as a back up,” said Pilley.
“But if you’re looking at response time … its still not a good situation. We’re looking now at ways that we can improve that partnership, starting to think more as one group rather that three different departments.”
The department has a Facebook page and regularly updates messages on the local cable channel.
After the priority of new equipment to outfit new members is dealt with, the next item on the list is a new pumper truck.
“Ours is 25 years old now,” said Piller. “It’s in great shape but at some point, we’re going to need a new one and that is a multi-year process.”
To that end the BVFD has begun its second Chase the Ace fundraising effort, which they share with the Red Indian Lake Ground Search and Rescue Team. The first jackpot went after seven weeks, and $1,125 was raised for the two groups to split.
The new Chase the Ace began Nov. 2. Money raised for the BVFD will help in building the department and providing more clothing and equipment for volunteers.
“It’s an exciting time for the department,” says Piller. “I’ve had a lot of positive response from town council, members of the community and the department.
“They like the direction that we’re taking. So, we’ll just keep going, and hopefully things will get even better.”