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Someone, please, help put out the fire


During this week, CBC Radio in St. John's is tag-teaming with reporters on the spot in Fort MacMurray to broadcast live from Newfoundland's second home. Why should the provincial CBC broadcast from Alberta? The answer is obvious - the oilpatch is the go-to place for Newfoundlanders who need jobs and money. Unfortunately, while Newfoundlanders in Alberta are hauling in the big bucks and sending money back to their families, their counterparts back home have to clean up the fallout.

During this week, CBC Radio in St. John's is tag-teaming with reporters on the spot in Fort MacMurray to broadcast live from Newfoundland's second home.

Why should the provincial CBC broadcast from Alberta?

The answer is obvious - the oilpatch is the go-to place for Newfoundlanders who need jobs and money. Unfortunately, while Newfoundlanders in Alberta are hauling in the big bucks and sending money back to their families, their counterparts back home have to clean up the fallout.

Take volunteerism, for example.

Newfoundlanders are well-known throughout the country for their charity and general willingness to help anyone in need. And at one time, especially in rural communities, when the call came out for volunteers, it was eagerly answered.

Now, as the lone bugle echoes for reveille in the dawn hours, fewer people are leaping to their feet to respond.

The volunteer crisis is perhaps nowhere more evident as it is in Newfoundland's small towns and outports, where it's getting more difficult all the time to get people to volunteer for one of any community's most valuable services, the fire department.

At one time, most little boys (and occasionally a few girls) would answer, "I want to be a fireman" when asked what they wanted to do when they grew up. And if they still had the dream when they got older, they could have the best of both worlds - take on day jobs, but train for the volunteer fire department in their spare time.

Sadly, little children's dreams of being firefighters are rapidly dissipating, like smoke from a house fire.

As noted by Chief Richard Murphy, president of the province's Association of Fire Services, rural communities are finding it almost impossible to keep volunteer departments functioning as people move away to find work.

And if potential volunteers get a work arrangement in Alberta that allows them to come home for weeks in between their work, they don't often feel like even getting firefighting training, let alone responding to fire calls when they're home on furlough.

It's a crisis that's not been ignored.

Municipal, government and fire service representatives have been meeting to try and come up with ways to attract and retain more volunteers.

Getting those firefighter volunteers won't be an easy task. How to turn the crisis around? Perhaps a tax break for such volunteers could be an incentive to encourage people here to sign up for the helmet and gear.

Second, take advantage of young people in the community, as the Grand Falls-Windsor and Bishop's Falls fire departments have been doing, and provide junior firefighter volunteer training programs.

Youth are often eager to participate, especially given the resulting work and life experience they can get (and beef up a rÉsumÉ at the same time). Rural communities may be shrinking, but they still have some youth in their populations.

And don't forget another part of the community left behind when the men go off to Alberta: the women.

Females have the skills and the potential to be good volunteer firefighters - in some rural communities they are already training for the job.

There are strong women out there in our rural communities. We have seen them, heard their stories, and witnessed their strength.

If we're going to beef up the numbers of much-needed volunteer firefighters, we need to explore all of those options.

If we don't, we won't have anyone left to put the fire out.

Sue Hickey

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