Firefighters lauded at annual banquet

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Andrew Wagstaff
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Southampton Volunteer Fire Department honours former chief, celebrates 29-years

They may not be paid, but volunteer firefighters should be referred to as professionals, according to Murray Scott.

Firefighters lauded at annual banquet

SOUTHAMPTON They may not be paid, but volunteer firefighters should be referred to as professionals, according to Murray Scott.

When you go to an emergency scene, the police officer, the paramedics, the Nova Scotia Power guys and even the two truck driver are all paid, said the justice minister and Cumberland South MLA, who was guest speaker at the Southampton Fire Departments annual banquet on Feb. 24. The firefighters are not paid, even though they play just as important a role. I think we should change the name of the volunteer fire service to professional emergency response.

All levels of government need to start looking at different ways to support the fire service, according to Scott, who said firefighters are seeing increasing loads of commitment, training and demands on their personal lives, while recruiting new members is growing more and more difficult.

He pointed out that some fire departments in Cumberland County have already resorted to advertising for new members, and that rural communities in this area are not too many years away from facing the major challenge of replacing its veteran volunteer firefighters.

The Southampton department, for example, still has five of its original members from when it was first formed 29 years ago. Fifty-three per cent of its members are over 55, 24 per cent are over 60, 18 per cent are over 70 and six per cent are even over 80.

When we reach that point its going to be a critical situation, said Scott. At all levels of government we have to look at how were able to support the fire service to make sure you have the adequate resources and adequate people to continue to provide the service.

Veteran Southampton firefighter John Payne criticized the Municipality of Cumberland County for its efforts to take more control over its fire departments in recent years, and said the county needs to join with its departments and the province to focus on the issue of recruitment.

New blood is necessary in order for this fire department to continue, and thats the challenge for all of us the fire departments, municipal and provincial politicians to see if we can find an answer, said Payne. Thats a bigger problem than any monetary issue. Having a new fire truck with nobody to drive it isnt going to help anybody.

Despite some of the serious messages, the event was lighthearted and fun thanks in large part to the jokes from Payne as master of ceremonies, particularly during a roast tribute to former longtime department chief Murray Meldrum.

Chief Glen Atkinson, who shared a few jokes and stories of his own, told Meldrum that the department appreciated everything he has done over the years, 16 of which he served as chief.

Its been a lot of fun, said Meldrum, thanking his fellow firefighters for the honours and gifts. I certainly enjoyed being chief but I just thought it was time to let someone else take over.

The departments ladies auxiliary also presented certificates to some of its long-serving members, and presidend Elaine Bennette presented a cheque to Atkinson on behalf of the organization.

awagstaff@amherstdaily.com

Organizations: Southampton Volunteer Fire Department, Nova Scotia Power, Southampton Fire Departments Southampton department

Geographic location: Cumberland County

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