Five firefighters have become familiar faces around town since they arrived in Creston on Oct. 31.
Here for a year, they can often be seen jogging on the streets, working out at the fitness centre or volunteering at Creston Valley Thunder Cats games. And polishing, endlessly polishing, fire engines at the fire hall on a daily basis.
Shana Toale, Eric Einagle, Jordan Shaw, Evan Slater and Brett Musch are Creston Fire Rescue’s first work experience program participants. They have made a one-year commitment in exchange for learning the daily routines at a community fire hall, being on call 24-hours a day and living on-site in the building across from the fire station.
Each of the program participants followed a different path before coming to Creston. Toale graduated from college last August. Einagle attended an academy in Halifax and is a paramedic. Shaw went to the College of the Rockies. Slater came out of a firefighting academy in Texas. They all want to become firefighters, a traditionally difficult career to get into.
“Out east in Ottawa there were 2,400 applicants for 34 jobs last year,” said Einagel.
And, while they want to become firefighters, each has a different picture in mind for their future.
“Ideally, I’d like to be back home in Ontario, but wherever the job takes me is where I’ll go,” Toale said.
Einagle said about firefighting that he “fell into it on a whim” but that he has become passionate about the vocation.
“It’s the reason I did the paramedic program,” he said. “Every day is different — you never know what you are going into, good or bad, when the alarm comes in.”
Shaw is driven by his passion for helping people and for physical fitness.
“I like the variety that firefighting offers, with its many tasks, and I like working with my hands.”
He has several family members who have made careers in emergency services.
“I love the rush of being in a burning building,” he said with a smile.
He hopes to find work in B.C., ideally in Kelowna.
Slater describes himself as being “the odd one out” in his family. His father is a lawyer and both brothers are planning careers in wealth management.
“I like being in the heat of the action. I love to fight fires and to go from hanging around the firehall to putting the pedal to the metal in seconds.”
“You should get that tattooed,” Shaw laughs. “I LOVE TO FIGHT FIRES!”
Musch graduated from an emergency services academy near his home in Sherwood Park, Alta., in 2013 and he worked part-time as a firefighter before coming to Creston. He jumped at the idea of getting a full year of work experience when he read about the new program on Firehall.com, and hopes to land a job in Kelowna or Edmonton.
“So far so good” is how Musch describes his time in Creston. He described station duties — “cleaning a lot of the time” — as important routines that lead to great efficiency when responding to an emergency.
The five-person team spends most of its time together. Toale has her own room in a newly constructed area in the building beside the fire hall on 10th Avenue. The four men share dorm accommodations. They have a small living area and television beside their rooms, but do most of their cooking and eating in the fire hall.
“It’s a 30-foot commute to work,” Shaw jokes.
Einagle said he wasn’t sure what he was stepping into when he arrived in Creston but the experience has been good. He describes it as like having a full-time 40-hour job and being on call for the remaining 120 hours of the workweek.
After living in Montreal, the change to small-town living is dramatic, he admits.
“Everything is seen under a microscope,” he said. “But Creston has all the amenities. If we aren’t in the fire hall we are at the rec centre.”
Shaw is confident that his time in Creston will be well spent.
“This is putting us ahead of the competition,” he said. “I think this will be the last stepping stone for us to enter our careers. When we go into interviews we have fire hall-related experience to answer questions with.”
“I didn’t really know what to expect when I came here,” Slater said. “But it’s given me a real understanding of fire station life.”
All five agree that a work experience program in a small community has its benefits.
“Vancouver, for instance, has a lot of distractions,” Slater said. “But I didn’t plan for this year to be a vacation. The job comes first. Along with my year in Kilgore (Texas), this gives me a good start.”
In a recent report to town council, fire Chief Mike Moore said the work experience program provides benefits to the community. Insurance underwriters consider each participant to be the equivalent of three volunteer firefighters, because they are on call 24-hours a day and live on site.
“Having them is like having 15 more volunteers,” he said.
As well, each of the work experience participants brings different training and experience to the Creston fire department, adding to the overall experience of everyone involved.
All five members won’t necessarily be here for the entire year, though. There is an agreement that they can leave at any time if they find full-time employment as firefighters.
“This program is a real credit to Mike (Moore) and his team,” said Mayor Ron Toyota. “They have worked very hard to make this the best experience possible for these future firefighters and we wish them all success in their careers.”
This is the third story in a series about fire service in Creston. Previous installments focused on the amount of local calls and potential financial impact, and the link between fire services and insurance rates.