Standing at 5-foot-3 inches tall and maybe 120 pounds soaking wet, Elizabeth Fuller isn’t your typical firefighter.
“Big strong people are great and are needed,” she said, “but the small people are needed too.”
In fact, Stettler Regional Fire and Rescue is looking for new blood, period.
Fuller has been a firefighter now for about two years and is close to exchanging her orange helmet – known as a lid – for the yellow lid of a non-probationary member of the department. The dainty firefighter said she finds herself at home with the brawnier members of the department because she knows she’s just as important to a safe and successful rescue as they are.
She’s required to meet the same physical standards as her brawnier counterparts, but her smaller size makes her ideal for situations where brawny types won’t fit, like crawling into a banged up vehicle at an accident to keep the passengers calm during a noisy extraction.
The local department is about to start its annual recruitment drive and is looking for men and women 18-years and older to come and give firefighting a try. Training is provided to successful candidates – all candidates need to do is pass the physical requirement testing and pass an interview designed to determine suitability, explained Deputy Chief Etienne Brugman.
“New recruits are taught as a class, and then get their pagers and respond to calls,” Brugman explained.
They remain “orange lids,” on probation, until they complete one year with the fire department and five firefighting courses, or complete five years with the department.
At that time, they exchange their orange lids for the yellow lid of a fully vetted firefighter.
“It’s quite the physical job,” Brugman said. “It asks you to work hard in a very short period of time. There’s no time to warm up.”
The job also comes with its own dangers, but is very rewarding.
“It’s about the excitement of being able to get out there and help people,” Fuller said. “If you’re at a fire, you can just see that you’re needed.”
Troy Auton, a Donalda resident who works in Stettler and is part of the Stettler station, aims to respond eventually to calls from the Stettler station during the work day and the Donalda station in the evenings. Right now, though, he only responds to Stettler calls.
He comes from a family of firefighters, his dad a retired full-time firefighter, and his brother a full-time firefighter himself.
“For me, it’s about challenging myself to understand my limitations and see what I can do to push back against them,” he said.
Auton was part of a different, smaller volunteer department before moving to Donalda, and said he wasn’t expecting the level of organization he found with the Stettler department.
“I think it was better than I expected it to be,” he said. “I thought I knew what to expect, but no way. They’re a very well-run department.”
Firefighting has undergone a lot of changes in the past near-30 years Capt. Kerwin Cornelssen has been a firefighter. The volunteer has been with the Stettler department for about 10 years, but has 28 years under his belt overall.
His love of fighting fires started when he was eight years old and a store across the street went up in flames. He and his family watched it burn down to the ground, and saw the firefighters trying to save the building and its neighbours.
When he was 13 or 14 years old, he and his brother were able to play victim for the local fire department as it did training, and that “sealed the deal.” He was hooked.
Cornelssen still has his first firefighter jacket. He said it’s basically a “canvas trenchcoat.”
“Equipment has changed quite a lot,” he said. “It’s a lot better. My first helmet was just a plastic helmet. The trucks are more sophisticated.”
He said the requirements to be a firefighter have changed, too. Women in firefighting, he said, have been a welcome addition.
“Since they’re smaller, they can go places we can’t,” he said.
When it comes to advice for people interested in maybe becoming a firefighter, all three were of the same mind.
“Jump right in,” Fuller said. “It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. People tell me, ‘You can’t be a firefighter! You’re small and a girl!’ You just don’t know your limits until you test them.”
People interested in joining Stettler Regional Fire and Rescue can contact the department through the Town of Stettler.