Keremeos and District Volunteer Fire Department has a good thing going.
The department began recruiting junior members from the village secondary school in the mid 1990s.
The KVFD has a training procedure specific to new junior firefighters – with the major emphasis on safety, knowing their limitations and how to work effectively in a team environment.
The training is the same as everybody else on the department, they are however identified by the color and the word “student”in reflective lettering on their helmet.
This identifies the student to the incident commander so that he can direct the student accordingly.
All the students are shadowed by the senior members
In an age of declining volunteerism and aging volunteer fire departments, the move has provided the Keremeos department with a supply or enthusiastic, young and energetic youth, some of whom will hopefully become fully trained and stay with the department for years to come.
The youthful volunteers are trained through a different program than the department’s standard training protocol, reflecting the need to provide the younger members with more time to learn the fundamentals, and keep them safe.
Emma Merrit, 17, of Olalla was a high school recruit two years ago.
“I was always interested in firefighting,” she said. Originally from Kaleden, where her interest was first piqued, she signed on to Keremeos in 2011.
“I enjoy making people’s day better, and helping out,” Merrit said of firefighting.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself – every thing about the service is really fun.”
Merrit credits the department members with making her feel that she has a place with the department .
“The guys at the hall are always there for you – they are really amazing,” she said, adding that her first day on the department was a little intimidating.
“I walked in, and there was (Chief) Jordy and all these guys standing there,” she said, “but they were all great, and it was no problem after that.”
Merrit’s worst moments with the department came midway through this summer, when her friend Derek Woodrow drowned in the Similkameen River.
“It was the first fatality I had attended and it was tough,” she said, “I learned to respect a lot more things as a result of that incident.
Merrit also takes part in the wreath laying ceremony at Memorial Park during Remembrance Day observances.
“I can’t say enough about the fire department and what it’s done for me,” she concluded. Merrit plans to train as a heavy duty equipment operator and would like to stay on the department as long as possible.
“It felt really good to get my own bunker gear, personally fitted,” she said, “and it’s fun to see the new recruits just hired by the department in the same position I was a few years ago.”
Dave Schwetje, 14, is one of Keremeos’ newest recruits, hired just two weeks ago.
The Similkameen Elementary Secondary student was inspired to join because his father was a fireman.
“Growing up, I looked up to him,” Schwetje said, “ my dad saved lives – how many kids can say that?
When I was old enough to join, I did.”
Schwetje’s first practise involved being issued turnout gear, and fit testing for breathing masks. In his second week, Schwetje was familiarized with equipment in the department’s trucks.
“I’m hoping to stay with it as long as I can,” he said, “It should be a great life experience.”
Schwetje said he was enjoying everything he’d been exposed to so far, and was waiting to get more experience before deciding what aspects of firefighting he enjoyed the most.
“I look forward to being able to help people,” he concluded.