News Local

A new crop of volunteers

By Miriam King, Bradford Times

Training officer Jamie MacNeil, right, with new recruits for the BWG Fire & Emergency Services, in Bradford. Miriam King/Bradford Times/Postmedia Network

Training officer Jamie MacNeil, right, with new recruits for the BWG Fire & Emergency Services, in Bradford. Miriam King/Bradford Times/Postmedia Network

Bradford West Gwillimbury Fire & Emergency Services has struggled to maintain a full complement of volunteer firefighters.

The issue isn't recruitment. The fire service has been successful at attracting new graduates of Georgian College's pre-service firefighter education and training courses.

The problem has been retention. With limited full-time hiring, BWG has invested time in training its recruits as volunteer firefighters, only to see them leave to take full-time positions with other fire departments.

It's led to a change in tactics. Rather than focusing only on new grads, the BWG fire service has been actively recruiting within Bradford West Gwillimbury  –  based on the assumption that residents of the community are invested in the community, and more likely to make a long-term commitment to the department.

The most recent round of hiring resulted in 12 new hires, with a wide range of backgrounds. David Prokopchuk, Damiano Marcangelo, Crystal Bradbury, Mark Everett, Joao Santos, Tanner Forsyth, Leonid Sonatin, Thomas Haywood, Henry Kim, Weston Langford, Sergey Davidov and Nicole Higgins train every Thursday, for 3 hours – plus four or five Saturdays, 8 hours each day, working on practical skills.

Their training officer is Jamie MacNeil, a former Fortune 500 company trainer and a 15 year veteran of the New Tecumseth fire department. MacNeil has a passion for his job. It's a lot of work, but it's fun to see the “spark” ignited, over the 6 months of training to reach Firefighter Level One certification.

Mark Everett, 27, is “Bradford born and raised.” When he heard the department needed firefighters, he applied. “Everybody  from my great grandpa has been part of this department. I'm fourth generation.”

Damiano Marcangelo, 24, lives in Bradford, and was inspired by his brother. “My brother just got full-time fire. I got interested last year... I'm enjoying it so far.”

Leo Sonatin, 31, says, “I always wanted to be a volunteer firefighter” - but living in Vaughan, there were few openings. A month after he moved to Bradford, he saw an advertisement for volunteers, and applied. “It's living the dream,” he says. “This is the best job in the world.”

“This is a great opportunity,” says Tanner Forsyth, 29, to develop a career “and make a difference to the community.”

Crystal Bradbury, a graduate of the pre-service training, hopes to become a volunteer firefighter “just to get involved in the community... I love it!”
Bradbury also has a special reason for signing up. “My 6 year old son is thrilled. He's probably the most excited.”

On a recent Thursday, the group were upstairs at the Leisure Centre, covering health and safety. Once they achieve  Level One Certification, they'll start on Level 2 – working towards full certification.

“We put a lot of time into this group,” says MacNeil. “Hopefully it will pay off.”