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Volunteer firefighters learn new skills

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Friday, May 11, 2007

JEAN MARIE RIVER - If a fire were to break out in Jean Marie River, the volunteer fire department has never been more prepared to put it out.

On April 19, seven members of the Jean Marie River volunteer fire department took a basic skills introduction course.

They spent the afternoon in their equipment practising everything from the proper way to set up a ladder to using fire hoses.

Although the eight members of the volunteer department hold their own training approximately once a month ,this is the first time such an extensive training session has been held in the community, said Arnold Gargan, volunteer fire chief. The volunteers did well at the course, Gargan added.

"It was well attended and everyone had fun," he said.

The course focused on using the basic firefighting equipment. To start with, all the volunteers made sure their protective personnel equipment fit properly.

"It's good to make sure all the gear fits," said Gargan.

The firefighters also tested their self-contained breathing apparatuses, learned how to operate the pump on their firefighting vehicle, practised with hoses and ladders and used a port-a-tank to hold water.

Everyone learned something new. Even something as simple as setting up a ladder requires a number of steps.

"All the rules and regulations you have to follow to set up a ladder. I didn't know that," said Gargan.

Wanda Norwegian was also surprised at the steps it takes to get the right angle for a ladder. Norwegian is one of two female volunteers on the team.

"I just enjoy being a volunteer," said Norwegian.

The training was a good exercise, she said. The firefighters got used to wearing their gear but with the warm temperatures that day it wasn't always comfortable.

"It was pretty hot," Norwegian said.

Other important lessons learned included how many people are needed to control a hose. Because of the water pressure you need two people, said Gargan.

The biggest building in the community, the firefighters practiced on the Henry Ekali multi-purpose hall. They climbed onto the roof and also hosed down the walls.

Gargan has seen the Jean Marie River volunteer fire department come a long way. He's been part of the department for the past six years.

At the last house fire, approximately 10 years ago, the community only had a large chemical fire extinguisher in the back of a two-door truck and some loosely organized community members.

Now with a quick response, defensive firefighting vehicle, an organized department and higher levels of training, the community is in much better shape, Gargan said.

Offered through the Office of the Fire Marshal, the training course is available for all communities in the Deh Cho who are interested, said Tyrone Larkin, the instructor and assistant fire marshal for the Deh Cho region.

The firefighters in Jean Marie River did well at the course, he said.

"They showed interest and enthusiasm and acquired a lot of practical knowledge," Larkin said.

Although training is important, Larkin said prevention is the first step to stopping fires.

"You don't stop fires with a fire truck," he said.