As of last week, the fire service in the Donalda region, Regional Station 3 Donalda, was suspended temporarily.
Stettler Regional Fire Station 1 will continue to maintain the fire service in the Donalda region until an appropriate number of trained fire service members are in place.
According to Stettler Regional Fire Department Chief Mark Dennis, at present Donalda Fire Station has four volunteer members in place to respond to emergency calls.
A minimum number of 12 is the recommended number by Fire Underwriters, while 15 is the preferred number of volunteers required to efficiently operate.
“We have tried to recruit volunteers in the past, but this has been an ongoing issue for over a decade now,” said Dennis. “I hear that people seem to be unaware and shocked about what just happened, but this isn’t new. I do feel bad, but people need to realize with just four volunteers it is not safe to keep the fire service station in Donalda operational.”
Dennis added that they endeavour to have at least 12 fully trained volunteers to feasibly reinstate and safely operate Donald Fire Station.
“When a call comes in, it is rare for everyone to be available and present,” said Dennis. “And that puts tremendous pressure on the volunteers who are there. They are community-minded and are willing to help, but we should always remember the undue pressure they are subjected to all the time, thinking whether it is okay for them to leave town, change schedule; it impacts their lives.”
Volunteer numbers for Donalda Fire Station have steadily decreased over the past number of years.
“I probably should have made this call a little sooner,” Dennis explained. “We just kept it going hoping our recruitment campaigns would have realized more success in this region.”
Stettler Regional Fire Department’s most recent recruitment campaign took place in the Fall 2016, and no new recruits stepped forward from the Donalda region.
“We’re very disappointed that this has happened and we do hope that they can recruit some volunteers and resume operation from the department,” said Dan Knudtson, mayor of Donalda. “You have to realize that the fire department serves the community here, which is made up half of the village residents and half of county residents. We have been encouraging and letting the village residents know what it means to not have a fire department and have asked them to consider volunteering.”
Knudtson further commented that the community has been lucky the past few years.
“In the past, we have been fortunate that there have been no fires, that’s above average, but this last year we had two, and both were residences,” Knudtson explained. “We can only ask the village residents, but ultimately the responsibility of recruiting lies with the regional fire chief, so we’re hoping that we have something operational soon.”
Speaking about the shutdown, County Reeve Wayne Nixon said, “We would like the area residents, both village and county, to see this as a call for volunteers to become members of the Donalda Fire Department. Because of the few firefighters at the Donalda Station unfair expectations were placed on their members, both in fire calls and first response medical calls.”
Nixon added that the County of Stettler recognizes the importance of maintaining a fire department in Donalda and district and urges everyone to consider becoming involved in the recruitment of new members, either by volunteering themselves or asking their neighbours to volunteer.
Fire chief Dennis is hopeful that the shutdown is temporary, and he is encouraging county residents around Donalda to step up too, especially those living in the response area of the Village of Donalda.
For now, fire service response from Regional Fire Station 3 in Donalda will be suspended and Dennis will work with the Village of Donalda and the county to recruit and address the need for more volunteers, and look to the County of Stettler and the Donalda region for solutions.