ATHABASCA – Athabasca firefighters have your back — their job is to literally be there for you on what may be the worst day of your life and try to make it somewhat better — so sometimes we need to have their backs as well.
Not in any life-saving capacity of course, more in the way the Friends of the Athabasca Fire and Rescue Society has for more than 20 years, providing fundraising support to help the department purchase the equipment needed to expand its service capabilities, and save even more lives.
After some downtime throughout the pandemic, the group, headed by a new executive board, is now getting active again, and there are still a few days to get involved with their latest fundraising effort.
The Friends are currently raising funds with an online silent auction to repair the deck of a fire rescue truck and replace the department’s side-by-side, both of which are vital components of rescue missions that must be undertaken in the community and surrounding area.
The society came about in May 2000 as a result of the need for vehicle extraction tools to respond to highway accidents, which until that point were handled by other departments who would have to travel to the local area. It took about five years to purchase the used equipment, along with a retired fire truck to transport it.
When there’s a need, the Friends try to relieve it.
“Sadly,” says the society’s new webpage, “prior to seeing the vision come to fruition, one of the founding members of the society, volunteer firefighter and RCMP Sgt. Larry Mcleod was killed along with his wife in a motor vehicle collision with an impaired driver.”
Since incorporating, the society has helped fund the purchase of a Lifepak AED (automated external defibrillator); embankment and ice rescue equipment; upfitting to a donated half-ton pickup and to an enclosed trailer for wildland firefighting; a used ranger side-by-side and trailer; and the construction and upfitting of a deck for the department’s brush (wildland) truck.
“We get busier doing a little bit of everything, back in the day we were primarily fighting fires, primarily in town, but as our scope has kind of grown in what we do and the services we provide outside of town, our call volumes begin to creep up,” Athabasca fire chief Travis Shalapay told town council at their Nov. 2 meeting during his quarterly report.
“What the fundraising does for us is it supports those line items that would not necessarily be justifiable to taxpayers. So rather than asking taxpayers to foot the bill for a water rescue program, or ice rescue, or embankment, our non-profit society will fundraise for those and add a beneficial service to the community.”
That’s exactly what happened in 2016 when the department’s water/ice rescue equipment needed to be upgraded to meet regulatory requirements. Once again responding to a need, the society began fundraising and applying for grants, one of which came from Al-Pac's community enhancement program, which helped fund the upgrades and training for members to become certified swift water and ice rescue technicians throughout the next few years. It also helped pay for a 16-foot, aluminum Jon boat with an outboard jet motor, now dubbed Marine 1, that is designed to operate in shallow water and withstand river debris.
“It is important that residents know that local emergency services have the ability to respond with the tools necessary to safely conduct these missions,” states the website. “Our focus is not only reactionary but also preventative.”
The auction can be found on Facebook by searching Friends of the Athabasca Fire and Rescue Society Silent Auction Group. It features an extensive collection of items donated by local businesses, each of which will go to the highest bidder, and provide firefighters with the equipment they need to do the job.
Bidding ends Dec. 2 at 9 p.m. sharp. No bids time-stamped 9:01 p.m. or later will be accepted.
“We're very happy to see that the non-profit is up and active and pursuing their fundraising efforts once again. It's a lot of work to manage the non-profit,” said Shalapay. “It's a lot of work to maintain a society so I'm glad to see that it's up and healthy and moving forward.”