Work exchange firefighters on the job

 | June 20, 2012

Sun Peaks Fire Rescue is again host to a crew of work exchange firefighters.

The four firefighters to ascend the mountain this year for Sun Peaks Fire Rescue’s well regarded Work Exchange Program (WEP) hail from Ontario and coastal B.C., and will remain at Sun Peaks for six months as part of their professional development. They’re all qualified professional firefighters looking for more hands on experience.

“(They’ve) not got a job yet,” explains Colin Cannon, Sun Peaks Fire Rescue captain. “They come to us and we help them get their resume built better, get them more practice, basically make it so that when they get a job they know what it’s like to be a firefighter full-time.”

Derek Dufour heard about the program from his program coordinator in Ontario, the firefighting network in Canada and previous WEP members who “had nothing but positive comments about it” while Omar Vellani and Greg Georgas learned of the program from Chief Bill Stoner’s addresses to their classes at the Justice Institute of B.C.

Sun Peaks is home to one of only a handful of fire halls in Canada that offer similar experience. And, although the six months of training is a volunteer commitment, WEP firefighters are satisfied that it will be time well spent.

“It seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime,” says Vellani.

Cannon explains that the skills and ethics learned by the work exchange firefighters who’ve been through the program gives them a leg up when they make their applications for career firefighting positions.

“They leave here with a set of skills that places them very highly in jobs, and once they get their jobs, during that first year on the job they shine,” says Cannon. “Not only are we trying to get them a job, we’re trying to make sure that once they get into that job they don’t have any catches—they perform. That’s the word on the street right now: the people that come out of WEP are top notch when they get hired.”

During their first month in Sun Peaks the WEP firefighters volunteered at the trash bash, and cleaned the village stroll.

“A couple other things we’re going to do as a group, is Jo’s Road Race, we’re going to be volunteers for the first aid,” says Jeff Iwanaka. They will also be working with the Discovery Centre students teaching them fire safety and first aid skills as well as orienting them to the fire hall.

In addition to their community volunteerism the trainees are on call four days per week, and are developing their professional training by way of technical skills. But they’ve found that the training doesn’t end with mastering the apparatus and tools.

“One other bonus of the program is you really get a feel for the culture of being a firefighter, says Georgas. “Working as a firefighter, there’s a chain of command, there’s certain ways that things operate in a fire hall, and learning about that culture is really important. I can’t say enough about this program, I think it’s going to give us a huge advantage.”

The smaller setting, mutual support, professional resources and tutelage of Chief Bill Stoner, and Captains Colin Cannon and Luke Harrison are confirming for this intake that volunteering at Sun Peaks was a career choice that will set them apart.

“We can honestly say,” concludes Vellani, “that every day we’re better firefighters going to sleep then we were when we woke up, and that’s all that we can really ask for.”