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Left without a local fire crew, new volunteers step up in Mendenhall, Yukon

After eights months without local volunteer firefighters, new local recruits from Mendenhall, Yukon, will start training next week. The community is depending on volunteers from a neighbouring district to help in the meanwhile.

Volunteers from neighbouring district, Ibex Valley, covering fire services for now

Right now, the community of Mendenhall is served by firefighters in Ibex Valley, about 50 kilometres away. (CBC)

The rural Yukon community of Mendenhall is hoping to have some new volunteer firefighters in place by summer, after being without a local fire crew since last year. A handful of new recruits will start training next week. 

"It's not unheard of to run out of volunteers," said James Paterson, acting fire marshal for the Yukon government. 

'It is ultimately the community's responsibility to recruit their own members and I can understand the difficult challenges that comes with this being such a small community,' said James Paterson, acting fire marshal for the Yukon government. (Yukon Government)

"As time goes on, they either lose interest or they have other commitments that take them away from the fire hall," he said.

Paterson said there were once 11 volunteer firefighters at the Mendenhall fire department, which serves the Alaska highway community of fewer than 100 people. As of May, there were only two volunteers still active. 

"They finally came to the conclusion that they weren't going to be able to sustain it on their own," said Paterson.

He said since then, the Ibex Valley volunteer fire department has been covering Mendenhall. Ibex Valley is about 30 kilometres down the highway. 

Six new recruits

Recruitment efforts have been going on in Mendenhall over the last few months, and Paterson said six new volunteers will start training next week. He says that's not enough to make up a whole crew, but it will help serve the community.

"I don't think six can handle all emergencies, but they certainly can mitigate most emergencies," he said. "It'll be a good quick reaction force to start the basics of the process of dealing with the emergencies, while Ibex will come in and support them."

Alexandre Poitras, a farmer in Mendenhall, is among the new recruits. He said while it's good Ibex Valley firefighters are helping his community out, he has concerns about how far away they are.

"It's a bit far. I don't know what their response times would be, but I'm assuming if they have a call I don't think we'll see anyone within an hour," he said.

"A lot can happen with a wildfire in an hour — it can spread quite far." 

Poitras said he is often on his land, so he hopes to be able to keep an eye on the area and help once he's trained. 

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