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Without more volunteers, this fire department fears it won't be able to respond to emergencies

The Cartwright fire department has issued an urgent plea for volunteers because it's worried it won't have enough people to respond to an emergency.

Cartwright fire department issues urgent plea for volunteers and more training

A small community is shown surrounded by water.
The volunteer fire department in Cartwright is calling out for volunteers to join. (Submitted by Brandon Cabot)

The Cartwright fire department has issued an urgent plea for volunteers because it's worried it won't have enough people to respond to an emergency.

Deputy Chief Terry Gullage said as of early November the department had about 10 people, but a number of them are shift workers or are frequently out of town. 

"[The] reality is that if we get a call and we've only got two members, we're not going to be able to respond," Gullage told CBC News in a recent interview. "It's difficult even if we have a fire call and we have five members show up."

Since putting up a Facebook post about the problem in November, multiple people have contacted the department to help, said Gullage, but only three were under 58 years old, and none under 30. The small central Labrador community has a population of 427, with an estimated 195 over the age of 50, according to Statistics Canada. 

Gullage said it has always been difficult to get and retain members.

"You're basically putting your life on the line to go and do this for nothing, for no remuneration and that, I think, is kind of prohibitive for some people," Gullage said. 

"Ultimately it's the safety of the community.… We do it because it has to be done." 

A boat floats on ocean water with houses and boats docked in the background.
Cartwright has about 400 people, according to Statistics Canada. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

The department has struggled with equipment and training. There is annual provincial fire training in central Newfoundland, he said, but it's costly to get to from Labrador. 

"If we could get training in our own region, it would make a big difference."

Training program can be accessed by any fire department, says commissioner

The provincial government said there is a regional training program that was suspended during the pandemic but is starting up again. 

Robert Fowler, the province's fire commissioner, says a few communities can network and learn new skills without travelling by accessing a regional trainer. 

Any fire department or town council can contact their local fire service division office and request the regional trainer come to their community, he said. 

A middle-age man in a white shirt and black tie stands in the foreground as firefighter training takes place behind him.
Robert Fowler, Newfoundland and Labrador's fire commissioner, says recruitment is a challenge in Labrador and across the country. (Troy Turner/CBC)

"We're open to new ideas and methods, always to get our firefighters trained," Fowler said. 

Retention is a struggle throughout Labrador, and across the country, Fowler said, but the province is working with communities, municipalities and fire departments to help.

Fowler said there's both theory and practical training that firefighters need and new opportunities with online resources. 

"There are numerous courses out there and training that can be done, again, at your kitchen table or in the fire halls," Fowler said. "Using that regional training program and looking for opportunities and that to get together and do practical training, that's what it's all about."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heidi Atter

Mobile Journalist

Heidi Atter is a journalist working in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. She has worked as a reporter, videojournalist, mobile journalist, web writer, associate producer, show director, Current Affairs host and radio technician. Heidi has worked in Regina, Edmonton, Wainwright, and in Adazi, Latvia. Story ideas? Email heidi.atter@cbc.ca.

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