Goulais River Fire & Rescue. Volunteers Who Do It

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In the mid 1990’s retired Goulais Fire & Rescue Fire Chief, Tim Denley, gifted with an artist’s eye, designed a logo that has come to represent  the outstanding volunteer fire & rescue department that is, Goulais Fire & Rescue. Located in a northern Ontario unorganized township, Goulais Fire & Rescue (GFRV) encompasses a rather vast and challenging terrain.

Goulais Fire & Rescue Volunteers  was founded in 1981 to serve the needs of the Goulais River community and surrounding areas. Goulais River is located on the Trans Canada Highway 17 N. about 30 kilometers northwest of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

20160511_205009Last week, Saultonline stopped by the Goulais Fire Station, located on Old Highway 17 Road, near Mountain view Public School (Mahler Rd) to check out the digs and equipment that make up Goulais Fire & Rescue. Jeff Bowen, Goulais Fire & Rescue’s Chief for the past 8 years, graciously supported the tour.

There is a distinctive sound that a Fire Engine makes as it pulls out of the fire station. With an impressive collection of vehicles at the ready,  GFRV Chief, Jeff Bowen, brought out the latest addition to the GFR fleet; one that was envisioned to accommodate a northern Ontario fire and rescue department.

20160511_204706“We added this truck to our fleet in 2014. It was built specifically for GFRV. We designed it, and contracted an Ontario based fire truck manufacturer  to build it for us.” said Bowen.

“Even though it’s not the main fire fighting vehicle in our fleet, it is our main vehicle in the fleet, for rescue. It carries all of our specialized equipment, including the fire fighters personal protective gear. It’s an important piece of the puzzle.”

20160511_203339The Fire Engine carries all the hoses, pumps and water. That would be Fire Engine 23 in the GFRV fleet, and is the main firefighting tool.

There are currently 5 vehicles, an ATV (all terrain vehicle) and a snowmobile in the GFRV fleet.

20160511_203927Goulais Fire & Rescue face an ongoing challenge with respect to water. They serve communities where access to water for fire dousing through hoses requires a diversion to the nearest body of water. Fire hydrants are non-existent in the unorganized townships that GFRV serve.

“We draw water out of  the rivers, creeks and lakes around the region.  In the winter time, we’re drilling holes through the ice.” said Chief Bowen.

“There are a couple of strategic underground water storage tanks placed in the region.”

The region that GRFV Chief Bowen refers to “Encompasses 7  townships, from the bottom of Mile Hill, all the way north to where we meet up with Batchewana; a couple of kilometers this side of the Chippewa River, and everything in between. We go all the way up the Searchmont highway, and all the way out to the water on Goulais Bay side.”

Of course, some of the square kilometers that Goulais Fire Rescue encompasses is covered by water, but they definitely have  a big footprint.

20160511_203915“Searchmont Community Volunteer Fire Dept. is considered  a mutual aid partnership. Goulais Fire Rescue has similar partnerships with Aweres Volunteer Fire Dept. and Batchewana Fire and Rescue.” he said

GFRV officially joined the Algoma Mutual Aid Association on April 1, 1995.  This allowed the department to access neighboring departments for help when required.

“Sault Search and Rescue has a standing offer to provide assistance as well;  especially in flooding situations in springtime. They will come out with their trucks and boats to help us out.”

“We respond to about 100 calls per year; 4 or 5 typically per week.”

“Protocol for responding to a call, is to head to the fire hall, so that we can determine which vehicles we need to dispatch.” shared Dave Ryan (Past Deputy Chief ). “We all carry pagers 24 hrs. a day, 7 days a week.”

“Even though Goulais Fire & Rescue is within an unorganized township, and comprised of volunteers, we are held to the same standard, regulations and expectations that any other fire department in the province is held to. This is considered a work place. We are responsible to maintain all of our  equipment; our vehicles; our building.” said Chief Bowen.

Being part of an unorganized township means that there is no town council, or municipal structure. A local Services Board is the funding mechanism for Goulais Fire & Rescue.

“The local Services Board can draw funding for specific programmes, fire being one of them.” said Chief Bowen. “Because there is such a large geographic footprint, the land base reflects that. A substantial portion of Goulais Fire Rescue’s funding comes through the Services Board.  As a registered charity, fundraising continues ongoing to supplement income to run the operation.”

Most recently, a pancake breakfast was held in April.

20160511_202701“This was the best turnout we have ever had. We served 306 people in four hours. Up until this year, we served around 200 people. The support from the community is tremendous. It’s also an open house, so we can showcase where the funding goes. All the vehicles get moved out, and the breakfast happens right here in the fire station.” said Chief Bowen.

“A community partner, ‘Fiddlehead Farms’, supplies all of the maple syrup for the breakfast. Joanne and Chris Robertson are great people.” Agreed.

“A gear drying rack was purchased a couple of months ago with donations received from a local resident.  When we get substantial donations, we are very mindful of the gift they gave to GFR and honour them in some way.”

‘Be a Firefighter Wednesday’, is an effort to recruit some volunteers. Wednesday evenings (7 pm) are also the weekly training and professional development opportunities that volunteers attend. When saultonline dropped by, a guest speaker was busy with the crew inside the station.

“Recently, a few of the guys left, having moved out of the community for full time employment.  One gentleman went to the OPP, and one to the Windsor Fire Dept., and four others have left for southern Ontario.”

Chief Bowen would like to see a more robust roster. “We’re actively looking to fill those spaces. We need to bring new members in, and get them trained.” he said.

“We have 15 in our crew, 2 of which are women.  I would feel a whole lot more comfortable if we can get that number up around 22. Besides helping your community, a person learns real life skills, that are transferrable outside of GFR . We aren’t looking for a huge time commitment. We train once a week, and our minimum standard is that a fire crew member attend 50% of the time.” he said.

GFRV has recently been called to a number of brush fires.

“This year, especially with the dry conditions, there has been a rash of outdoor wild land fires. Every single one of them has been by people burning outside of the regulations. The MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) sets the regulations.” he said.  “In a nut shell, there is currently no day time burning whatsoever; for any purpose. You can only have a fire in the evening, and it has to be 100% supervised.”

“If you are burning outside of the regulations there are hefty fines, and a person could be also held responsible for cost recovery to extinguish that fire. And that can include Helicopter, water bomber, or multiple, depending on how big the fire gets.”I didn’t know” is not an excuse.”

Chief Bowen invites anyone interested to come out on a Wednesday evening at 7:00 pm and discover Goulais Fire & Rescue.

“Everybody is welcome, and everybody can certainly do the job.”

“I’ve been here for about 23 years now. Things have changed a great deal over those years. There are a lot more responsibilities  put on the volunteers as far as training, documentation, log books, inspection etc.  We leave our full time jobs to come here and train. But it’s not all work. Through Goulais Fire & Rescue a person will find camaraderie and strong bonds.”

20160511_203835And of course, volunteers will gain skills that save lives. On December 27th,2015, I required the assistance of Goulais Fire & Rescue. Thank you Chief Jeff Bowen and Dave Ryan. Your attention to the scene and professionalism left me with immeasurable gratitude. Your presence made everything better.

And thank you to all of the good Samaritans who stopped early on a Sunday morning along Pine Shores Road; who tried to dig me out of an upside down vehicle in a watery ditch; who called 911 (Jim Lajoie);  And to the lady with the coat… You gave me warmth and a gentle hand. Your kindness will never be forgotten.

Thank you also to the OPP (Northeast). I was left with a great appreciation for the work of our provincial police force.

And to the EMT’s dispatched by ambulance from Sault Ste. Marie, I’m forever grateful to you. Your medical attention and driving skills are second to none.

The following is a Goulais River Fire & Rescue history lesson:

‘Bud Wildman hosted a meeting urging residents to show interest in a local fire brigade.  75 people attended the meeting held Nov. 17, 1980 at Mountain View School.  In addition, the MNR and the OFM (Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office) were present to offer advice and suggestions.  At that meeting, 13 residents volunteered to begin the process of getting a fire brigade in Goulais River and they were ultimately successful.

20160511_203408Those original committee members can be credited with putting us all on the road to having a diverse, highly trained and very successful local fire department.  Those members were: Rick Atkins, Janice Atkins, Lynne Dunne, Allen McCaig, Jim Cronin, Bill Currie, Mike LeBlanc, John Head, Paul Talliefer, Jerry Coulis, Curtis Nystedt, Gordon McLarty and Ted Alleway.

It was suggested on Nov. 19, 1980 that a Local Service Board be set up to take advantage of an initiative of government matching of dollars raised in the community to go toward fire protection.  To this day, the chief responsibility of the LSB is to ensure the Goulais Area has a fire protection contract in place.

One year later, the land the fire hall is located on was donated to the community by the Board of Education.  We started out with 2600 square feet, 1 pumper, one tanker, 33 members and an auxiliary unit of 16 members.  The original fire chief was Brad Chitty.  Our original coverage area was north on Hwy 17 to King Mountain Shell or Harmony Bay, southeast to Kirby’s Corners and southwest along the Goulais River.  Basically, they covered 3 townships.  We now cover 7!

There have been 3 major additions to the hall over the years and several additional vehicles have come and gone.  Currently we operate with 5 emergency vehicles and 2 off road vehicles.  In 1998, the Goulais Lion’s Club donated a snowmachine for use on those hard to reach snowmobile trails.  Donations made in memory of former firefighter Trudy Bemrose, allowed the department to equip that snow machine with a rescue sled, for getting injured/sick patients out of the bush and off the trails.’  (http://www.goulaisfire.com)

Goulais Fire & Rescue on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com

Algoma Mutual Aid Association can be found here:www.algomamutualaid.com