MORRISBURG – “We were overwhelmed with the response,” said Cameron Morehouse, fire chief for South Dundas Fire and Emergency Service, about the first ever “Be a Firefighter for a Day” event held August 21st at Matilda Hall.
While preparing for the inaugural event, Morehouse said that they hoped to maybe get 12 members of the general public registered for the day-long event.
What they in fact ended up with was a full slate of registrants meeting the 20 person capacity. “We ended up having to turn away about 20 people from outside South Dundas and another 10 from here,” said Morehouse.
With that amount of interest Morehouse is already considering making this an annual event.
What the day entailed was groups of participants in full firefighter gear, in 30-plus degree weather, rotating through four stations where they received instruction from existing South Dundas firefighters and then given the opportunity to get their hands on the tools of the trade and give them a try.
“We’ve got a lot of great instructors with a lot of experience helping us today,” added Morehouse.
Stations included search and rescue, pumps and hoses, ladders, and auto extrication.
“This is just a great event for people to find out what we do as firefighters,” said Morehouse, adding that the day was meant to be as fun and educational as possible.
At the end of the day participants all received a special T-shirt to commemorate the experience, regardless of whether they decide to apply to join SDFES.
The overall purpose of the event was to generate interest in the fire service as it is in need of new recruits.
“This is a great day here today that Chief Morehouse put together to demonstrate the fire service to potential candidates,” said South Dundas mayor Steven Byvelds. He added that the people of South Dundas fully respect and support their fire service and is glad to see that people are getting this opportunity to get some experience to decide if the fire service is something that interests them. “It’s a challenging decision to join the fire service and if this event can help people make a good, informed decision about whether or not they wish to join, it’s well worth it.”
Seven of the 20 participants were female.
Morehouse said he was shocked and surprised, in a good way, to see so many women participating in this event. “I’m excited at the potential for us to diversify a bit more,” said Morehouse.
He is not sure what is driving this increased interest from women. He speculates that increased visibility of women in service see on various television programming could be part of it or the fact that South Dundas has been fortunate enough to have female firefighters Lloya Sprague and Juleana Barnhartd on the service being great examples and spokespeople for SDFES.
“I hope that’s helped bring some more women into the department,” he said.
“Everyone brings different skills with them and we need that. We’re not looking for heroes, we’re looking for everyday people and their skills.”
Speaking with The Leader were two of the women participating in Saturday’s event — a mother and daughter Nicole Garlough and Tanner Rodgers.
Nicole, who is military, and chose to retire here in South Dundas to come back to her family’s roots, said that the event just served as confirmation for her that she can be a firefighter.
Daughter Tanner said that she has wanted to become a firefighter but has had some hesitation because she is physically small, making her unsure if she has the physical strength to do the job.
“Actually, what I’ve learned today is that it’s a lot harder than I thought,” said Tanner. She learned a lot of things that never occurred to her before today, especially the adverse conditions that firefighters face as they take on the job at hand.
However, she also learned that this is a very team oriented job, which actually makes it less daunting. “Not having to carry all the weight yourself makes things a lot better and is actually a nice feeling,” added Tanner.