When i grow up, I want to be a firefighter !

Sitting on the fence
Michèle Noiseux

Photo : Jean-Pierre Fourez

To Grant Symington, those were not idle words. While other children were skipping rope or playing in their sandbox, Grant was spending his free time rolling hoses and doing odd jobs at the fire station where his father was Fire Chief for 31 years. Our Fire Chief’s grandfather was fire chief as well. You might say it runs in the family…

Today, the Saint-Armand/Philipsburg/Pike River Fire Chief is surrounded and supported by a three-tiered team of highly qualified experts : 18 firefighters,(3 of whom are women) ; 8 certified first responders (7 men, 1 woman) and a 2-man water rescue squad – Chief Symington being one of them.

Each firefighter must complete 300 hours of training – this averages out to a one-year course – offered by the École nationale des pompiers du Québec, before being certified as full-fledged firefighter. The training is arduous and exhausting ! Men and women who chose this work are made to wear bulky protective gear and carry hefty, cumbersome equipment. There is no sexual discrimination in this field ! Needless to say, they must remain in top physical condition at all times. Moreover, in this area of critical care, quick response and mental and emotional stamina, there is zero tolerance for alcohol or drugs : the wellbeing of the population and team members is at stake !

For their part, first responders obtain their certification following an intensive 60-hour course. In addition to this, they are made to take a refresher course every 3 months to maintain their certification and become aware of new medical support techniques. These courses help them perfect their knowledge and skills in three specific modules : medication, trauma, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). To this end, the qualified instructor gives in-house training at the fire station.

As one of a 2-member water rescue unit team, Grant Symington attended a 45-hour specialized course given by the U.S. Coast Guard while his colleague John Fontaine attended a similar course offered in a Québec college. Chief Symington indicated that cold water and swift water rescue techniques are offered in Montréal, and he expects his department will soon attend both courses in order to widen and upgrade the Saint-Armand /Philipsburg / Pike River expertise.

The lives of volunteer fire-fighters and first responders in small communities such as ours are quite challenging to say the least ! The time each one of these people spends training or perfecting his or her skills is not remunerated : the only financial compensation they receive is on a per-call basis. Couples and families need to learn the art of adapting to this unusual lifestyle where the mother or the father (sometimes, both parents) have to be “on call” 24-7. Children of a firefighter may have their pool party or hockey game postponed or even cancelled at a moment’s notice ! A young couple’s quiet, intimate dinner may be shattered by a ringing telephone and a call to respond… Even those companies that hire volunteer firefighters or who have them on staff are fully aware that John, Harry or Judy might leave in the middle of the work day to respond… In fact, a firefighter’s weekend (what, no break ?) might play out this way :

  • Saturday morning – fire training from 8 a.m. to noon
  • Civic support in aid of a community event, from early morning to the end of the day, during an entire weekend, depending on the event.

For the Saint-Armand/Philipsburg/Pike River area, the average response time to a call for fire-fighters might be 6 to 8 minutes, whereas the first response team might reach a “patient” within the 10-minute mark. Not bad, when one considers the hills, vales and meandering roads of this geographic panorama in which we live.

All in all, Chief Symington will tell you that firefighti g / first response/water rescue is a “vocation” and those who choose this path find it both demanding and rewarding, and he would not have it otherwise ! His last words ? People, please check your smoke detectors : Fire Prevention Week comes up October 7 to 13 !

Men and women interested in serving their community in this capacity are invited to pick up an application at the Municipal Office.

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