WENTWORTH CREEK, N.S. — West Hants council is expanding its recognition program to include more long-serving volunteer firefighters.
On July 10, West Hants council approved a change to their recognition policy that would see volunteer firefighters who serve for 15 and 30 years receive a special award.
It's a change that Coun. Jennifer Daniels has been lobbying for.
“I'm elated,” said Daniels in a phone interview. “I'm very pleased that council is taking on this policy. It's a very important recognition program to aid in the recruitment and the retention of the volunteer women and men in the fire emergency services.”
Paul Maynard, a deputy fire chief in Hantsport, shared a similar sentiment.
“I think it's really important to recognize literally the hundreds of hours of service each of our volunteer firefighters commit to our communities,” said Maynard.
“I think it's a really nice opportunity for elected officials and municipal staff to recognize the contribution by those members of our fire service.”
No matter the time of day, volunteer firefighters answer the call to help others. They put in hundreds of hours of community service each year. Over time, that really adds up.
“Based on 70 per cent (attendance) for fire calls, internal training, external training, committee work and regular meetings, equipment maintenance and fundraising, we figured it out to be 301 hours per year for every firefighter,” said Maynard, after crunching the numbers for what an average local firefighter donates to the community.
Maynard, who is in his 29th year of being a firefighter, estimates that the firefighters serving Hantsport put in a total of about 14,450 hours per year of volunteer service to the community.
“If you look at somebody who commits to that level of volunteerism in the community, you're probably looking at close to 4,000 to 5,000 hours in the 15 years,” he said.
Daniels said what these men and women do should be honoured.
“We watch TV and it's so glamorized. Until I sat down and talked to firefighters, those that were willing to share their experiences, I really truly didn't have a sense (of what they do). I thought, oh my gosh, this goes way beyond the training and the community functions that they engage in,” said Daniels.
“For a volunteer organization, they're pretty incredible people.”
The idea to establish additional long-service awards was first brought up in March 2018 by Daniels. The initial idea received a lukewarm reaction from fellow councillors. When a motion to recognize firefighters at 15 years of service was defeated, she didn't pursue her second motion involving West Hants council partnering with the Canadian Volunteer Fire Service Association to provide 30-year medals. There was a swift social media reaction to the news and staff then created a formal report to show the cost and benefit of revising their recognition policy.
“Initially I was disappointed with the motion that was turned down at council but since that time, I've been able to speak with several West Hants councillors who now better understand the overall picture, I guess, and seem very supportive of the idea,” said Maynard. “I'm happy to hear that the municipality is looking to make a change.”
Daniels said when she initially proposed the idea, several other municipalities had already adopted a policy to recognize long-serving firefighters who reached 15 and 30 year milestones.
For example, Kings County has a special program to recognize its volunteers, and since the Hantsport Fire Department covers several areas in Kings County, like Hants Border, Lockhartville, Bishopville and towards Avonport, the West Hants firefighters receive recognition for their efforts by the neighbouring municipal unit.
Another example is when the neighboring Town of Windsor partnered with the Windsor Fire Department's veterans association in 2014 to create 16-year service medals.
“I think initially there was some misunderstanding. I thought I had been clear but I'm glad we're following the lead of many other municipalities,” said Daniels.
“Just to even have one make it to five years, it's a big deal,” said Daniels. “When you're recognizing them for 10, 15, 20 or more, it's a big deal. To me, it's very important and it's important to the volunteers themselves.”
On July 11, council voted unanimously in favour of expanding the community milestone recognition policy to include a 15-year award and a 30-year Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association (CVFSA) medal.