Nova Scotia·Special Report

Emergency services in Cape Breton call for help

As Cape Breton volunteers age, it's becoming more and more difficult to find young blood to replace them.

Search and Rescue hardest hit by volunteers aging out of service

Cape Breton Ground Search and Rescue is trying to attract new members as volunteers age-out of the organization. (CBC)

It's not easy to be a volunteer with Cape Breton Ground Search and Rescue — spending long hours hiking through the woods in all kinds of weather searching for people.

Some fire departments in Cape Breton are having a hard time finding new firefighters as older volunteers step away. (David Burke/CBC)

Shaun Jackman, speaking for search and rescue, said members are getting older and replacing them with young blood is a concern.

"We're currently at a point — there's a big concern that we'll reach a point that our active members are aging out of the woods faster than we can put them in," he said.

He said they need about 25 volunteers a year to keep doing effective searches.

Travais Briand, the volunteer fire chief in George's River, has a handful of seniors in his department.

Briand said if they give up firefighting in the next few years, he's going to be in trouble.  

"We're losing the younger generation who are migrating out west for work. So the older generation haas to pick up that extra bit for us. So we start losing this older generation it's going to really impact the fire service," he said.

Chris March is a deputy fire chief with the Cape Breton Fire and Emergency services, he’s also the volunteer coordinator and manages fire prevention training. (David Burke/CBC )

Chris March is a deputy fire chief with the Cape Breton Fire and Emergency services. He's also the volunteer coordinator and manages fire prevention training.

March said several fire departments now have to respond to a single call, and that helps them deal with shrinking number of firefighters.

"Surrounding departments really rely on each other for help now and there's a lot of automatic aid — which is essentially, if one department gets a call, one or perhaps more than one of the surrounding departments will respond automatically with them to help because, as I said, the numbers just aren't there," said March.

March knows the aging population is only going to grow, but believes the fire service will still be able to meet all of its demands.  

"We learn to do more with less everyday in Cape Breton and we'll continue to do that with the volunteers."     

As for search and rescue, they plan to do more targeted recruitment to attract volunteers.

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