The Brooks Fire Department is using its 100th anniversary to showcase the athleticism of some local firefighters and to confront the challenges facing rural departments.


Firefighters pull a 175 lb. deadweight dummy at Firefit, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Brooks' Fire Department. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

Competitors from across Canada came together for a Firefit event — a challenge that organizers say puts volunteers and full-time firefighters on equal footing as they climb stairs, haul hoses and drag 175-pound deadweight dummies.

"We're trying to showcase what they do for a living, for real, and at the same time they're very competitive, so we have the best of the best here, not just from Brooks but from as far as Ontario," said Kevin Swanson, the city's fire chief. "We only have a 100th birthday once, so we wanted to celebrate."

While the milestone is one to celebrate, it's also one that's making fire officials take a hard look at what the future holds for firefighting.

With budget cuts and waning resources, fire departments are learning how to do more with less.

One of the challenges facing rural fire departments like the one at Brooks is recruitment.

Right now, there are 32 volunteer firefighters in Brooks.

That's just enough, but Swanson says he would prefer to see a waiting list of volunteers.

"It's a struggle to get volunteers and then to maintain them, and the smaller the community you're in, the smaller pool of resources that you have," he said.

Volunteers balance day jobs, fire shifts

Despite that, there are many volunteers who say the job is a dream come true.

"It's so much fun, you get to drive a truck with sirens and lights," said James Cooley, a volunteer firefighter with the Brooks fire department. "Who wouldn't want to do that?"

Most volunteers hold down full- or part-time day jobs in addition to their training and volunteer shifts.

"We're just as busy," Cooley said. "Brooks is a very busy fire department … It's hard to get people to come out. A lot of people don't even know Brooks is a volunteer fire department."

While the work can be challenging, it's one that many volunteers say they wouldn't trade for anything.

"I worked in an office, right after the time I turned 18," Cooley said. "All of a sudden it was firefighting and that's all it's ever since been … I can't sit still anymore."