WESTLOCK — Following the end of Alberta’s busiest fire season on record which saw local firefighters put in more than 1,000 hours of service, the members of Westlock County’s five individual volunteer fire departments were honoured with an awards banquet hosted at the Clyde Complex on Nov. 4.
Westlock County manager of protective services John Biro said local firefighters were deployed to Lac Ste. Anne, Grande Prairie, High Prairie and Rainbow Lake this year, assisting other communities during the high alert fire season.
“They spent many hours away from their families putting out fires,” he said.
But Westlock County’s firefighters didn’t just spend all their time outside of the municipality; as of that weekend, Biro said they also had responded to 29 reported structure fires, 29 motor vehicle/equipment fires, 30 motor vehicle collisions, numerous medical code response calls and a number of public hazard calls relating to downed power lines and fallen trees.
Overall, local firefighters responded to 195 calls, and their average response time was 17.19 minutes, “which isn’t bad considering a lot of volunteers live many miles from the station,” Biro said.
Besides responding to emergencies, local volunteers are also involved in the PARTY program, which involves setting up a mock scenario of a motor vehicle collision in a bid to educate Grade 7 students on the dangers of distracted driving and drunk driving.
“It’s basically to try to prevent something happening,” he said.
Biro noted local firefighters are also pro-active in FireSmart and put on public events like the annual Fire Prevention Week open house. They also assist with community barbecues, school events and annual parades.
Biro said volunteer firefighters are in effect the backbone of communities, adding that he was proud of the county’s departments and each member.
“You’re just like my own family,” he said, adding that while he doesn’t see every member all the time, he does see them out in the field when responding to calls.
In terms of what has changed for local fire departments this year, Biro said 2023 saw Westlock codify its “fire service level,” which is essentially an agreement that details the minimum level of protective services for the municipality.
Biro added the county also updated its communications system while thanking county council for its assistance in that endeavour.
“Now we’re with the provincial radio, which we can use anywhere in the province,” he said, noting the old system wasn’t very efficient.
He said they also have a new dispatch agency which is connected with the town, which will enable a lot of communication back and forth.
Glenn Latimer Award
Biro said it was difficult to choose this year’s recipient of the Glenn Latimer Memorial Community Service Award, named for a long-time Westlock County firefighter and dedicated volunteer who passed away in 2007.
He said the award goes to a firefighter who goes above and beyond when responding to calls, as well as doing a lot of community service.
In the end, the award went to James Hoetmer, the chief of Station 4 (formerly known as the Clyde fire department).
Deputy chief Perry Lumayko said Hoetmer joined the fire department at the age of 17 on Oct. 20, 1999. It didn’t take long for him to get experience, as that was the year of some big fires out in the sand hills.
In 2014, he became chief of the Clyde fire department, and he has always been willing to help out his fellow firefighters, Lumayko noted.
He added that Hoetmer helped out Latimer himself for many years with the fire house, a mobile station that was brought around to schools to teach kids about fire safety.
Lumakyo said that Hoetmer is “without a doubt a true embodiment of the values and principles of our firefighting community. His dedication to the protection of life and property is unwavering.”
He added that Station 4 has one current and three former members who have received the Latimer award, and it was fitting for Hoetmer to be added to that list.
Upon taking the podium, Hoetmer thanked his fellow firefighters for nominating him, adding that he remembered the years working with Latimer.
“I loved every minute of it. This is a great honour,” he said.
In addition, the following awards were also presented that evening:
Alberta Emergency Service Medals for 12 years were presented to Todd Terrault, Don Borle and Austin Moon.
Alberta Emergency Service Medals for 22 years were presented to Drew Beattie, Francis Cloutier and Rheal Sauve.
Five-year service awards went to Austin Houle and Dariana Thiessen, while 10-year service awards were presented to Joe Bokenfohr, Andrew Vandeligt, Noah Musterer and Garret Zarowny.
15-year service awards were given to George Futoransky, Roberta Halliday, Sheldon Snow and Rheal Sauve.
Donna Dul and Brent Spearin were recipients of 20-year service award, while Ted Dul received a 40-year service award.
Kim Klein, who is not a firefighter but assists Station 2 (Jarvie) with administrative duties, was also recognized for 25 years of service.