The “Dirty Dozen” has wrapped up an exhausting and exhilarating training program with New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services – but the journey is just beginning.
Twelve recruits – the largest group of firefighters to ever be hired at one time by the New Westminster fire department – have just completed five weeks of training and one week of evaluations.
“All of the staff at NWFRS are excited to have such a large and enthusiastic recruit class join our team and begin their career as a first responder,” said acting fire Chief Erin Williams. “It’s always refreshing to see new employees with great attitudes representing the fire department in our community. We are looking forward to the contributions this diverse group of hires will bring to our city.”
Nick Bruyere, Dean Clarke, Ryder Chidley, Daniel Cotter, Rachel Coulson, Evan Jumaga, Sean McPhee, Jason Mukhija, Amar Rai, Sean Staples, Nick Stone and Kayla Weltzin have completed their initial five- week training and one-week evaluation and have been assigned to shifts at the city’s three fire halls.
“We have been able to hire a really diverse group of firefighters. But again, for us, safety and ability is our primary concern; they are here for a reason – we feel they are going to be good firefighters,” said Glen Bailey, the department’s chief training officer. “They all have the potential to be fantastic firefighters. A lot of it has to do with what they put into it.”
The recruits come from a variety of backgrounds, but they all share a burning desire to be a firefighter.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Ryder Chidley. “Hard work will get you here and hard work will keep you here. I am so happy just to be part of it.”
Chidley’s interest in firefighting was sparked at a young age, when his father, a professional photographer, would stop the car to snap photos at incidents being attended by first responders.
“I just never really thought it would be a reality until my later years in life because of some obstacles that stood in the way,” he said. “In the last few years I just decided to go for my goals, to follow my dreams and to give it everything I had.”
Dean Clarke’s path began in the United Kingdom, when firefighters were called to the house next door to extinguish a fire.
“They were able to deal with that situation and save my neighbours,” he said. “From that moment on, I have always wanted to be a firefighter. I was eight years old.”
Nick Bruyere said he’s always wanted to be a firefighter, as it’s a good fit with his competitive sports background.
“The team environment is something that has always appealed to me. Being part of a team is really important,” he said. “As well, I have a lot of family that struggles with a lot of mental health problems, so that’s something that resonates with me a lot – to help the public and to help those in need.”
Several of the recruits have family members who are first responders, including police officers and firefighters.
Rachel Coulson has several relatives who have worked as firefighters, but it wasn’t a career she initially considered.
“It took me a while to get here. To be honest, it was never something I dreamed about my whole life,” she said. “For females, it’s not something that you grow up thinking about. It’s not that you can’t do it, it’s just that often we find a different route to get here. Once I graduated from university, then it was something I became super passionate about.”
But perhaps it was meant to be?
“My grandparents grew up right beside the Glenbrook fire hall. I was exposed to the New Westminster Fire Department when I was really, really little,” she recalled. “There is actually a photo of five-year-old me sitting in a New West fire truck. It says Fire Chief on the plastic hat.”
Along with several volunteer firefighters, the recruits have worked in a variety of jobs, including an arborist, a welder, an auto mechanic and other trades positions – many chosen specifically to help them in their quest of becoming firefighters.
Prior to being hired by New Westminster Fire and Rescue, Kayla Weltzin had been working for the B.C. Wildfire Service, leaving her Lower Mainland home each summer to fight wild fires in the Cariboo.
“I wanted to make the switch to structural firefighting because it’s a better work-life balance and more consistent, and just being involved in the community. You don’t always get that with B.C. Wildfire,” she said. “The medical side of things, as well, is really appealing to me.”
Go, go, go
June 10 marked the final day of training and evaluations for the new recruits – coming after weeks of developing skills with ladders, search and rescue, exterior fire attacks, interior fire attacks, auto extrication, first aid and technical rope rescues.
“They’ve been going go, go, go for five weeks,” Bailey said. “They have been going Monday to Friday, non-stop every day. They have spent a minimum of three days pumping hoses, spraying water, raising ladders and just constantly sweating. I was talking to a couple of them – they have lost anywhere between five and 10 pounds each.”
Bailey worked with the department’s training captains to create a five-week training program for the recruits. While the training captains did “an outstanding job” of implementing the training, he said all on-shift crews have helped.
“Every firefighter has been super involved,” Bailey said. “They really bought in. They all know that this group’s training will be a direct reflection on how they perform in the field.”
Sean Staples said the recruits appreciate the hands-on training provided by the department.
“There’s a lot of departments out there where the training division is kind of far-reaching from the rest of the department. You don’t often get to engage in learning skills from the people you are going to be working directly with,” he said. “So, for them to have that rolled into our training is paramount because these are the same people we are going to be learning to live with. And we are going to be able to support each other because we have worked together.”
Jason Mukhija did volunteer firefighting in Fort St. John and fell in love with the camaraderie at the fire hall and the ability to help people in difficult situations.
“The one thing I can say, being a smaller department, it’s like a big family,” he said. “Everyone is so welcoming. They want to help you succeed. Everybody is super helpful. There’s been a lot of crews rotating in and out so it’s a good chance to meet everybody. It’s been a great experience.”
Now that the recruits have been dispersed to their various shifts and hall, they’ll have one year of probation, during which time their skills will be constantly evaluated. Each recruit has received a book outlining the tasks and skills they have to work on – and the platoon captains and hall captains are aware of those skills as well.
“They are still a little green, but we train every day,” Bailey said. “They have a lot to learn still, so they are going to be training extensively with the crews for the next year.”
The recruits say they’re keen to keep learning.
“The training is top-notch,” said Daniel Cotter. “I am really enjoying it. Everyone is super friendly. I am just happy to be here, excited to learn.”
The “Dirty Dozen” – as the group has been nicknamed – say they’re grateful for the opportunity to work for New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services. They can’t wait to hit the floor, get to know their crews and become of the fire department’s “family” and start serving the community.
“I am stoked,” said Evan Jumaga. “It’s been a lot of fun, but it’s also been a lot of hard work. I am just excited to get started.”
It’s also an exciting time for the fire department as the recruits help fill some vacancies and reduce the need for overtime shifts.
“We love to teach. We are doers,” Bailey said. “And at the same time they are teaching us something too. It’s an exciting time for all.”