Last spring, five new recruits began their journey as members of the storied Selkirk Fire Department and last month all five passed their Level 1 firefighter exams.
“They all did very well,” said Acting Fire Chief Corey Gagne.
“They put in lots of hard work, like you always do as a member of the fire department, but they all did very well and they’re full Level 1 firefighters.”
The new members are Sean Wiens, Cole Urbanovitch, Jarred Zamolski, Jeremy Milner and Russel Michalczuk.
Gagne, who’s been a member of the department for 18 years, says it’s an exciting time for the new members, who are being welcomed into what is essentially a family.
“With the Fire Department, you do become a family. It’s a way of life, it’s something you do, it becomes a part of your whole life and because we’re working so closely together a lot it becomes a family,” he said.
“And your family is part of the family and so are our retirees, we do a lot with our retirees. So you never quite leave the department.”
Proud to provide training in-house
The new members were trained in house, by Training Officer Sean Lewis, along with the approximately 10 other members of the department who are National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) certified instructors.
The 200-hour course is taught in Selkirk and exams are written in Winnipeg with physical tests taken in Brandon.
Lewis says theory and practical training for the approximately 25 “blocks” are covered in house and it takes about eight months to complete. Blocks include everything from ropes and knots to ladder and rescue carries. For the Selkirk Department, Level 1 also includes a rescue practices course where they learn how to use ropes and knots and low angle rescue. A hazardous material course and obtaining a Class 4 licence with airbrakes is required as well.
“We take new recruits on in the springtime and we let them respond to calls and they start just watching what happens at first. Then they start learning different things, how the pumps are operated and they’ll get the background of responding to calls,” Lewis said.
“Training starts in the fall, so they’ve had from April or May to September or October, and training lasts until the following April. By then, they’re more in depth into fire calls, responding as regular firefighters. They’re always paired with a senior firefighter.”
Gagne says keeping new firefighters safe is paramount.
“We won’t put them in harm’s way, they don’t go into live fires, but they can pull hose, they can get tools and they can fill air bottles. They’re learning and assisting on the job,” he said.
High standard for training
For Wiens, the training was challenging but something he embraced.
“It was a little bit challenging in some parts, it’s a big-time commitment but definitely worth it,” Wiens said.
“It’s very comprehensive.”
Zamolski agreed and said there is a high standard for training.
“We’re held to a certain standard, we go through the Manitoba Emergency Services College (MESC), we have to be on par with full-time firefighters, it’s not just a volunteer, Mickey Mouse course. It tests literally everything,” he said.
“Fire training is 25 sections with each section covering a different aspect of the fire department, including how to don and doff your turn out gear properly to keep yourself safe. A big thing with the department is teamwork and using the buddy system, never going in or out of anywhere alone, being accountable not just for yourself but for your crew.”
Wiens, who works at Gerdau and has a background in search and rescue and urban rescue, says he’s always been interested in joining the fire department, and after a conversation with his wife, he applied last year. He echoes Gagne’s comments about the department being family.
“Absolutely. My family became part of the Fire Department family when I joined and vice versa,” he said, noting he and his wife have three children as well.
“It’s a big balancing act with family and (the department) really engage the family too.”
Zamolski, who also works at the mill, says that played into his decision to join, along with a desire to give back.
“I’ve always been generous with my time…I thought the fire department was a good place for that. Working at the mill I work with a handful of guys that are already on the fire department and they’re a good group of guys,” he said.
“Even though it’s a struggle sometimes to get up at 2 or 3 in the morning, my appreciation for the community makes it worth it.”
While getting your Level 1 makes you a full member of the department, there is always more learning that can be had.
“We encourage everybody to do further training,” Lewis said.
Grateful for unwavering commitment to our community
Mayor Larry Johannson commends the department for their unwavering commitment to the community and their exceptional ability to provide top-notch in-house training.
“On behalf of council, I am incredibly proud to welcome these new recruits to the Selkirk Fire Department family. We have full confidence that these recruits will become an integral part of our department and contribute to keeping Selkirk safe.”
Further training is available through the MESC and can include ICS – Incident Command Structure – water rescue, rope rescue and confined space, to name just a few. There are also a number of other training opportunities through partner or external paid organizations and the South Interlake Mutual Aid District (SIMAD).