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Meet Richardson’s Volunteer Firefighters

Firefighters are essential for any community, urban or rural, to respond to emergency calls 24/7, 365 days a year. At Richardson, we’re proud to have many of our employees volunteering their time to local fire departments across the Prairies.

“We’re on call 24/7 and I respond to most calls, unless it’s during my spring busy season with Richardson,” says Rodney Luypaert, Manager, Crop Inputs for Richardson Pioneer Whitewood and volunteer at the Whitewood Fire Department in Saskatchewan. “It feels good to know you’re doing something for the community and people appreciate what you’re doing.”

Many fire departments in small communities across the Prairies rely on volunteers to respond to hundreds of calls each year.

“One of the biggest challenges for volunteer fire departments is finding enough people to join,” says Deanna Elgert, Administrative Coordinator for Richardson Pioneer Sprucefield and firefighter for the Waskatenau Fire Department in Saskatchewan. “When you live in a rural area, people come and go and it can be hard to keep people on the team.”

Richardson Pioneer Dawson Creek employee, Calvin.

Volunteer fire departments often cover a large, rural area, some of which is shared with other departments. The volunteer firefighters respond to all types of calls including grass and bush fires, forest fires, vehicle accidents, structure fires, search and rescue and truck inspections.

“I haven’t had to rescue any cats from trees yet though,” jokes Calvin Zrymiak, Location Manager for Richardson Pioneer Dawson Creek, who has been a firefighter for the Pouce Coupe Fire Rescue in Alberta for eight years and a volunteer firefighter since 1998. “Serving in a volunteer fire department, you meet many individuals who have the same goals: to serve and protect towns, villages, our customers’ properties and, well, everyone else in your fire area.”

Peter Schutz, Merchant, is always prepared to respond to calls, even on his way to work.

“I had already left for work and didn’t have any of my turnout gear so I had to put out the fire in my business suit,” says Peter.

Rural fire departments need donations and fundraisers to keep equipment up to date. Richardson is proud to have donated to many fire departments across the Prairies through the Richardson Foundation.

“It is very expensive to keep equipment up-to-date and current, so we do a lot of volunteer fundraising to help our department purchase extra equipment and to lighten the financial load on our municipality,” says Dustin Garabed, Assistant Manager, Grain, Tri Lake Agri and member of the Ninette Fire Department.

Volunteer firefighters join for different reasons, but they all agree that they’re proud to be part of the tight-knit group that helps the community stay safe. They work as a team to get the job done.

“I live in a small community where everybody looks out for each other,” says Jordan Jackson, Location Assistant for Richardson Pioneer Dundonald and member of the Lakeview Fire Department in Manitoba. “Volunteering and helping others is just what we do.”

“I moved out of town to a small farm and decided it would be best to help my community as we are around 25 minutes from town and the nearest fire department,” says Dan Bourassa, Director of Operations for Richardson Pioneer Dunvegan and member of the Blueberry MT Fire Department in Alberta. “I’ve always volunteered with local sports organizations and felt this would be important as well.”

“I’ve always liked the challenge of doing tasks that are sometimes considered a ‘man’s job’. I’m the first woman to ever be on the Minnedosa Fire Department,” says Kelsey Abel, Assistant Manager, Crop Inputs, Richardson Pioneer Minnedosa. “When I was in high school, I was involved in a serious roll over. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to join the department. Being on the department has also given me a sense of pride for serving my community. To be honest, I also like the fact that I may encourage other women to join their departments.”

“Being a volunteer firefighter is a very fulfilling position,” says Kelsey. “You won’t find a firefighter who isn’t proud of what they do for their community.”

Richardson Pioneer Portage la Prairie employee, Dustin.

“I was mowing the grass at my parents’ business when a neighbouring abandoned house caught on fire. The fire department didn’t have enough members and asked me to help them with traffic control,” says Dustin Hildebrandt, Electrician for Richardson Milling Portage la Prairie and Deputy Chief of the MacGregor/North Norfolk Fire Department in Manitoba. “The next month they asked me if I wanted to join the Junior Firefighter program.”

Richardson’s volunteer firefighters are proud to help their communities when they’re in need, but there are challenges with being a volunteer. Volunteers are on call at all hours of the day, which can often make for long days. They’re also on call on holidays like Christmas and have to make the decision to leave their families to help their communities. These firefighters also witness scenes that can be difficult to handle.

Richardson Pioneer Fairview employee, Ken.

“The biggest challenges are getting called out in the morning to an accident and get up and work the next day, or going straight to work from accidents,” says Rodney Luypaert. “When it’s busy at work and we do get a call it’s hard not to go. You don’t know how many other members will go.”

“When you get a call in a small community, chances are you know the people,” says Daryle Manning, Area Marketing Representative for Tri Lake Agri in Killarney, Manitoba and member of the Belmont Fire Department. “We have had a couple of deaths and one was the same age as my son and practically lived at our place growing up. That wasn’t pleasant to say the least.”

To deal with these difficult calls, some of the rural fire departments offer assistance like counselling for members. Other fire departments have also found ways to try and keep people’s spirits up in a bad situation.

“At times it is rewarding that you are able to help someone, but there are times it could be heartbreaking seeing what some volunteers have had to deal with,” says Calvin Zrymiak. “Although help is offered through counselling, there are times that the scene is still in the back of your mind for something that happened many years ago.”

“We have some stuffed teddy bears we carry in our fire truck that have helped out a lot. At a fire or bad vehicle accident, we give one of these stuffed toys to the kids involved, and that seems to make a big difference in calming them and showing that we care,” says Dennis Sigurdson, Location Assistant for Richardson Pioneer Swan River Valley and member of the Birch River Fire Rescue.

Have you thought about helping your local fire department?

Richardson Pioneer Sprucefield employee, Deanna and her team.

Richardson’s volunteer firefighters suggest talking to the Deputy Chief or someone else involved in your local fire department to complete forms and training required to be a volunteer firefighter.

“I would recommend to anyone to join their local fire department,” says Dustin Garabed. “We can never have too many hands.”


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