AMHERST – Amherst firefighters were praised for their commitment to the community during their annual banquet on Nov. 4.
Shelley McWilliams, firefighter relations manager with Muscular Dystrophy Canada from Dartmouth, extolled the department for its commitment in the battle against muscular dystrophy, the name given to a group of neuromuscular disorders that are characterized by progressive weakness and wasting of the voluntary muscles that control body movement.
“Since 1964, Amherst firefighters have been actively involved in fundraising for Muscular Dystrophy Canada,” McWilliams said. “From car washes, ticket sales, radiothons, to the very successful ladder sit … you department has raised over $553,000 for MDC – truly amazing.”
Earlier in the week, Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin stood in the Nova Scotia legislature to praise the Amherst Fire Department.
The firefighters “are on call 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, putting their lives on the line for their friends, family and neighbours,” she said. “They are dedicated and committed to a service of excellence to the people of Cumberland County.
Amherst Mayor David Kogon said the town’s 54-member fire service is “one very successful department.”
“I am most impressed with the volunteer component as the demands of being on-call and training requirements are onerous,” Kogon said. “Being a volunteer requires a huge time commitment, and it requires the support of family, friends and employers, support for which the town is very grateful.”
Fire Chief Greg Jones, noting the department was formed in 1883, echoed the mayor’s comments.
“Being a member of the Amherst Fire Department demands a great deal of time and dedication,” he told the gathering. “Our volunteers … have participated in approximately 12,032 hours of service responding to emergency calls, association business, training, and many more hours spent on community events.
“Your dedication to service does not go unnoticed.
“I take great pride in the way you, as members, tackle issues and situations, and plan and deliver services to the public, no matter when the call comes in or the situation that we face.”
Some of those community events included the comedy night, fill the fire truck event for the food bank and Rocktoberfest.
Those were in addition to the 274 emergency calls responded to during the past 12 months, including fires, gas leaks, and rescues – including one where people were trapped in an elevator.
The vast difference in emergency calls shows the wide variety of skills and training the firefighters need to do their jobs, Jones said.
That training is constant, the chief said. It begins with a basic firefighter program for new members and includes other training programs such as fire inspection, the proper way to drive fire trucks, how to deal with railway emergencies, traffic control at emergency scenes and leadership.
While fire services across the nation are facing challenges like low volunteer firefighter enrolments as well as the need for increased training and accountability, Jones said the local department has placed itself in a position where it can adapt to the ever-changing requirements of the fire service.
It has done so by reviewing the department’s operations and creating a strategic plan that has established priorities for the next five years, by focusing on volunteer retention and updating the policy that governs the volunteer aspect of the department, the chief said.
In addition, the department has added a new fire truck to its fleet and activated a new pager system.
Several awards were handed out during the banquet. The volunteer of the year award, presented by the Amherst Firefighters Association and voted on by members of the department, was presented to firefighter Craig Churchill.
David Ralston was recognized for his 40 years of active service, while Robert Sears was honoured for 35 years of service.
Steve Wood’s 25 years of service were also recognized as was Paul Lacey’s 15 years, and three members – Marty Furlong, Trevor Gaillard and Chris Clark – were honoured for 10 years of service.
A special presentation was also made to the town’s 33 retired firefighters who had served at least 20 years with the department before retiring. Jones presented those members with a newly minted badge that is nationally accepted by the fire service. The badge – gold for officers and silver for firefighters – will be worn on the left arm of their uniform.