A shortage of young volunteer firefighters in many rural areas of Nova Scotia has become a major concern, says the province’s fire marshal.
“There’s no doubt about it. In many of our communities it’s only the seniors who are in the fire department,” Bob Cormier said. “The problem is nobody’s living in the community. People are not moving in.”
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Consider Tancook Island, off the coast of Chester. Without sufficient numbers of younger residents to sustain the volunteer fire department, it closed. Now, when there’s a blaze, the closest firefighters are a ferry ride away.
The changing demographics of the volunteer departments have resulted in delayed response times, and in turn, an increase in fire prevention education in the province’s more isolated regions, he said.
“It is important for people to understand that in many of our areas, the most important thing is what you’re doing for yourself,” he said.
But Cormier stresses the fact that no Nova Scotian ever goes “without coverage.”
There are about 7,500 volunteer firefighters across the province, and 600 in HRM, which also has approximately 500 career firefighters.
The trouble is as the volunteers age, so do the residents, who often depend on fire services to respond to medical emergencies.
“The demand is going up, but the number of people to respond are not available,” he said.
Cormier says the age issue is not limited to volunteer firefighters. In the Sackville area, he estimates the vast majority of paid firefighters will retire in the next five years. “That’s one of the reasons Halifax is doing so much recruiting for replacement of their retiring members,” he said.