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Walking in their shoes

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To provide protection to the citizens of the Swan River Valley in the form of fire prevention, education, suppression and rescue services – this is the mission of the Swan River Fire Department (SRFD). It doesn’t sound so complicated when it’s put like that, however it doesn’t quite capture the entirety of what these volunteer men and women uphold everyday.
While we are on the cusp on Fire Prevention Week, which runs from Oct. 8-14, they are focused on increasing awareness to the many services they provide.
“The focus of this year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign is to ensure everyone has a fire safety plan that includes at least two ways out,” Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen said in a press release marking the week of recognition.
“In an emergency, time is of the essence so we all need to make sure our families have an escape plan, know what to do and practice getting out safely. It only takes a few minutes to prepare. There is nothing more important than making sure your family knows what to do in the event of a fire.”
The members of the SRFD provide emergency response 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year with non-emergency aid available during weekday office hours. They are authorized to provide services with fire suppression and rescue, vehicle extrication, water and ice rescue, ground search and rescue, farm accident response, wild-land firefighting, off road rescue, low angle rope rescue, hazardous materials response operations, as well as, fire prevention and inspections, public education and fire investigations.
“Currently, the department is comprised of one fire chief, one deputy fire chief, three captains, two lieutenants and 16 firefighters who work together to provide emergency services within the Town of Swan River and to portions of the rural districts—approximately 700 square kilometers within the Swan Valley,” said SRFD Fire Chief Darren Fedorchuk.
The SRFD is part of the Swan Valley Mutual Aid District which includes five other local departments all working together.
They are a paid, on call, department with a full time Fire Chief, which means that all of their training is volunteer work. The calls come in via pager, text message and email.
Among those receiving the calls is 38-year-veteran and Deputy Fire Chief David Madill.
“My dad was a firefighter,” said Madill. “That was probably my primary in. I wanted to do something in the community as well. I wanted a challenge physically and mentally and, of course, the adrenaline rush gets us all hooked.”
To become a member of the SRFD you must be 18 years of age or older and fill out an application at the fire hall. Once criminal record checks, driver’s license checks and medicals are cleared you can begin training.
“Once you go through the application process we encourage all our firefighters, as soon as possible, to complete their level one course,” said Madill. “There are specialty courses you can then complete beyond that.” 
Because each call can differ, continual training is a must and specialty training is an asset.
“You’d be surprised what comes across on a call,” said Madill. “Everyone has their duties on the department and there’s different responsibilities for firefighters and officers. I have more responsibility as a deputy chief which means I’m often in command of the situation. I’ll distribute the man power and make decisions to the best of the type of emergency.”
The rewards of such a time sensitive career are gratifying and uplifting but the challenges can be the exact opposite.
“I can make a difference,” said Madill
“Being from a rural community with all of our crew being employed full-time elsewhere makes our biggest challenge available manpower. We’re a fairly well equipped department but, in large situations, there are equipment challenges. We have limitations but we do our best to deal with any situation.
“Some are tough to deal with so we have a system of councillors in place if it’s needed,” he continued. “Those of us who have been here for a number of years, and have experienced multiple hardships, have learned to deal with them. I’ll often review the situation after and make sure that I’m good with what we’ve done on our part.
“We are a strong team together and are always looking out for one another. Particularly bad situations will come back to you every once in awhile.”
The department, on average, responds to approximately 95 emergency calls per year that range from alarm activation to structure fires.
Once the members of the SRFD are successful in putting out the fire the work continues as they are also in charge of conducting the primary investigation. Further investigations are conducted by the Office of the Fire Commissioner and RCMP are involved when necessary.
“We all work very well with each other,” said Madill.
Their connection to the community is clear in all of the fundraising events they produce each year which range from selling breast cancer awareness shirts to challenging local emergency crews to fun events such as the tug-a-war that happened at the Rodeo in 2016.
“We like to be seen in the community as being involved,” said Madill. “Rather than just responding to emergencies, public education is our primary focus so children can learn what to do and how to respond in different situations.”
Madill further explained how traumatic situations involving children can be and his hopes that the department’s continual education in the Valley can help limit those occurrences.
While most people run at the sight of trouble, these men and women are running towards it, putting their lives on the line and their extensive training into play to protect its Valley’s citizens.
“It’s what the community trusts us to do,” concluded Madill.

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Jakki Lumax
REPORTER
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