George Vandermeer remembers a conversation that took place about 18 years ago, when a volunteer firefighter friend of his suggested he should consider joining the fire department.
“He said, ‘It’s a lot of fun. I think you should try it. You’d be good at it.’”
He and his friend are both “greenhouse guys,” he said, and the nature of the job means they have to be in pretty good physical condition.
Their work keeps them fit, and also affords them the flexibility in their schedule to drop what they’re doing and head out when their pagers tell them they’re needed on a call, says Vandermeer.
But he took a bit of time to think about it, debating it in his head, before deciding to give it a try. One of his concerns was the time it involved — as a greenhouse owner he was afraid it would take him away from his business too often.
His other worry involved fear. He pictured himself going into a burning building wearing all his equipment, and not being able to see to find his way out again.
The timing turned out not to be a problem — he could get away during the day when some of the other volunteers couldn’t. At that time, he says, he was selling cut flowers, but when the industry became strapped, he turned to planting annuals. Now, he devotes as much time as needed to being a volunteer firefighter 11 months of the year, but in May, he takes the month off to concentrate on his business.
The fear, he discovered, was not as difficult to overcome as he thought it might be.
In addition to learning very quickly he really enjoyed it — the Monday night training, the camaraderie of the other firefighters, and the gratification that comes from knowing he’s helping his community in emergency situations — he gained confidence in his own abilities, and gradually got over his initial fear.
The first time he tried going into a smoke-filled building in training, he said he felt a little disorientated, “but you do it often enough and you stop being afraid. It becomes second nature an you feel confident.”
As well, he always knows “whatever situation you find yourself in,” fellow firefighters have your back.
“They will do whatever they can to help. If you need more help working on anything in particular, they’ll work with you one-on-one, putting in extra time if necessary.”
In addition to the sense of satisfaction that comes from overcoming fears, the Queenston station captain has learned about talents and abilities that he didn’t know he had.
For example, he said, he is now an instructor, helping to train new recruits — something he could never have imagined 18 years ago.
He teaches survival skills, helping to ensure the recruits who go on to become volunteer firefighters “get out safely.”
When he joined the department as a recruit, volunteers were sent to Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst — the Town didn’t have its own training program. But over the years, said Vandermeer, the NOTL Fire Department has developed a program “second to none. It’s been boosted up and improved, and our recruits learn a lot. It’s a great program and you become very knowledgable.”
After 160 hours of training, recruits are “confident and very well-prepared. They’re well-equipped for the job by the time they join the hall,” and they continue to train weekly with their station.
Would Vandermeer recommend the volunteer position?
His answer is a definite yes, the only caveat being the time that goes into training. If that’s not an issue, he said, “I would say give it a try.”
Looking back, he added, “My only regret is I didn’t join earlier.”
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer can find more information and an application at www.notl.com.
The deadline to submit an application is April 30. Information sessions will be held on April 17, at 7 p.m. at the Glendale station on Townline Road and April 25, at 7 p.m. at the Old Town station on Anderson Lane. The information sessions are for interested potential volunteers and their families to learn about the application process and the time required in the role of a firefighter.
Cutline: George Vandermeer, captain of the Queenston station, is glad his friend encouraged him to join the NOTL volunteer fire department 18 years ago. (Photo supplied)