It’s practice time at the Cherry Creek Fire Department. Every Tuesday night, the volunteer firefighters gather at the fire hall to keep their skills sharp and their equipment in good shape.
Two of the firefighters there are a little younger than the others: Eric Gill and Caden Stephens, both 18.
They’re the department’s junior firefighters and the latest recruits in a system that has spanned over three decades.
All three of the Alberni Valley’s volunteer fire departments —Sproat Lake, Beaver Creek and Cherry Creek—run the junior firefighters’ program. Sproat Lake right now has three active juniors.
Cherry Creek’s longest serving firefighter, Brian Brick, 56, started out as a junior firefighter in the early 1970s. In 1983 he made the switch and became a senior firefighter. He’s been with the fire department ever since.
“Back in the day there was a bunch of us that lived out here and we were told that the guys here needed help with pulling hoses, cleaning up, whatever needed to be done so a big group of us joined.”
While these days the fire department may have fewer junior firefighters, Brick considers the current program to be more in-depth than the one he went through.
“It’s probably more intense than it was back then,” he said, adding that “back then it was way more hands-on and nowhere near the theoretical part in the classroom. I think [the current program] is the way to go,” he said.
“It’s a stepping stone for a long lasting career.”
A long lasting career in firefighting is in line with Stephens’ goals.
“My goal is to get with the city [department] and go to fire academy and hopefully live that dream,” he said.
Stephens grew up watching the fire department practice and having been turned away once for being too young, finally joined as a junior firefighter when he was 15.
Gill joined a little later, when he was 17. Growing up, he was always interested in the medical field and felt like firefighting was a good way to get involved and put his first responders’ licence to use.
“I’ve learned more emergency scene skills, things about fires and life skills” that range from knot tying to how to use a chainsaw and operate generators.
It’s all knowledge that’s essential when the fire department gets called out to a scene, where the juniors know they’ll have to work just as hard as the seniors.
“We are treated just like a regular member,” said Gill.
Stephens agreed. “If I go to a call I’m usually one of the first guys to the hall and so I’m usually right in there. I definitely get to go in and do all the fun stuff,” he added.
Sending the juniors out to calls along with the senior firefighters gets them prepared for what lies ahead if they choose to keep going.
“They practice with our regular crew and whatever we do, they do,” said Cherry Creek fire Chief Mike Sparrow. “It’s to see if they really want to be here.”
They’re given the same gear and trained to the same standard as the senior firefighters. One of the Cherry Creek firefighters recently went on to join the Vancouver Fire Department. They’ve also had firefighters move on to the city’s fire department, as has the Beaver Creek Fire Department, which along with the Sproat Lake Fire Department, also have a junior firefighting program.
“They want a standard and that’s the standard we train to, so [firefighters] can come here and get their skill set and go further if they’d like.”