Volunteer firefighters: Protecting and serving their communities

A cash crop farmer, Ontario certified crop adviser, full-time EMS responder and volunteer firefighter gives us insight into his volunteering experiences

By Kate Ayers
Staff Writer
Better Farming

Many rural Ontario communities depend on volunteer firefighters.

In total, the province has 441 fire departments, 195 of which are volunteer, the website of the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General says. The province’s fire departments have 620 part-time firefighters, 11,574 full-time firefighters and 18,772 volunteer firefighters.

Volunteer firefighting requires a significant time commitment for both training and call response.

“Fire training is two hours per week on Thursday nights,” says Luke Curtis, a cash crop farmer, certified crop adviser and volunteer firefighter from Dufferin County. He also works full time for the police force.

“Firefighter training topics can range anywhere from radio communications to mapping. We do in-house training, or we can go outside to a training facility that we have on our fire grounds. We practise everything from fire suppression to search and rescue.”

Curtis volunteers at the Grand Valley and District Fire Department. He lives about a two-minute drive from the fire hall and his farm is about five minutes away. However, his full-time job is outside his community.

“I work well out of the area, so I can’t really respond to anything from work,” says Curtis.

Luke in tractor
    Luke Curtis photo

But “if I’m working on the farm and a page comes across during the day, I generally stop what I am doing and respond.”

Curtis’s ancestors established the farm in 1837. He attended the University of Guelph and obtained a degree in ag science. After school, Curtis worked as a sales agronomist and joined the volunteer fire department.

“After finishing university, I moved back to my hometown to get into agriculture,” Curtis says.

“Many people whom I grew up with and played hockey with as a kid were on the Grand Valley Fire Department. So, it was just a natural move to get back to seeing them more often, and I enjoyed the community service aspect of the role.”

In 2018, after spending four years at a crop inputs company, Curtis decided to switch career paths and joined the police force.

Luke in bunker gear
    Luke Curtis photo

When Curtis is not working, farming or responding to calls, he makes himself “available to the newer members of the fire department for extra training days as well as attends community events,” he says.

The Grand Valley and District Fire Department responds to between 100 and 120 calls per year, Curtis says. “We respond to one or two barn fires per year and two or three house fires.”

Community members can become more aware of fire safety and prevention by attending local meetings.

“Depending on the fire department, various sessions can be available for fire safety. We ran one a couple of years ago after a slew of barn fires occurred in Wellington County,” Curtis says.

Indeed, local fire departments and OMAFRA provide resources that farmers can use to improve safety in their operations.

These sources “cover really good points that some people don’t think of. But people must be willing to look for the information to make their operations safer,” Curtis says.

Overall, he recommends that producers become involved in their local fire departments if farmers can make the commitment work with their lifestyles.

“It’s a great opportunity to give back to your community. It’s a lot of fun and you get to meet a lot of people across the province,” Curtis says.

And “the knowledge that farmers bring is invaluable. If we get a call for an agricultural accident, they are an asset to the crew.” BF

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