Nova Scotia

Lunenburg County proposes firefighting class in high schools

As many volunteer fire departments feel the pinch between aging membership and too few young recruits who join the ranks, one municipal councillor says it's time to introduce firefighter training in high school.

Proposal was inspired by a similar program out of Newfoundland

Councillor Frank Fawson says there is a shortage of volunteers in the fire service and wants to introduce firefighting training in high schools. (CBC)

Put aside the physics homework for a moment and pick up a giant hose instead.

As many volunteer fire departments feel the pinch between aging membership and too few young recruits, one municipal councillor says it's time to introduce firefighter training in high school.

"Thirty-five years ago, if I could pick the hose up, I was good to go- Michael Nauss

Last week, council for the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg passed a resolution asking the province to do just that.

The idea is for volunteer departments to provide all the training at no cost to schools. Students who choose to take part could earn a credit while learning all the ropes. The only thing they would not do is respond to real calls.

"There's quite a shortage of volunteers in the fire service and an aging population too of firefighters," says Frank Fawson, a councillor with the municipality. "We need more young people to get involved."

Personal development credits

And it's not such a far-fetched idea. Since 2012, Nova Scotia's Department of Education has approved a slew of what it calls personal development credits. They range from ballet, to 4H, to lifeguard training.

A Department of Education spokesperson says the province hasn't received a request to add firefighter training to the list of courses.

In order to qualify for a credit, a program must be provincially, nationally or internationally recognized and applications are reviewed by a committee at the department.

The Lunenburg County proposal was inspired by a similar program in Newfoundland. Since 1987, firefighter training has been available to high school students in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L.

Many volunteer fire departments in Nova Scotia already have junior programs where teens are trained in all aspects of the job, but do not attend actual fires.

Junior programs

The number of young people fluctuates, says Michael Nauss, the chief of the Bridgewater Fire Department. He says integrating the current junior program into high schools would like broaden the appeal.

"Reading it in the book is only going to tell you a certain thing," Nauss says. "But if you have a credit for that, that they come and actually see what the fire department is actually doing, they're working at it."

"Hands-on is where you really get the information that you need."

When he joined the Bridgewater department 35 years ago, Nauss says there was waiting list to get in. But those days are long gone.

The department would ideally have 55 volunteers on the roster, but instead has 47. Eight of those, however, came up through the junior ranks, proving the worth of the program, Nauss says.

Part of the difficulty faced in recruiting new firefighters is the time commitment. Training is now far more complex and lengthy.

"Thirty-five years ago, if I could pick the hose up, I was good to go," Nauss says. "Today, it's a little bit different. There's a lot more things that we have to know before we actually get to go into that scene."

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