By Charlene Papasordaro
The Haldimand Press
Haldimand County depends on volunteer firefighters to keep the community safe. The Haldimand County Fire Department consists of 284 volunteer firefighters operating out of 11 stations. They are our neighbours, friends, and family. Bart Barnes is one such volunteer. Barnes has been on the department for 27 years, starting in Lowbanks and spending 22 years at Canfield Station #5.
Barnes always had the idea in his head of becoming a firefighter. Growing up, his grandfather, Charlie Pettit, was a captain on the Dunnville Station and his uncle, Jim Pettit, was a captain in Magnetawan. Though his grandfather died when he was eight, he can still remember going to the station with him on the weekends. “That’s always kind of been one of the reasons,” he explained.
Barnes joined the department when he was just 18 years old. At that time, joining was fairly simple, involving a few tests. Now, new recruits must complete a seven-month training program, pass the physical abilities tests, and be certified to the NFPA Standards 1001 Firefighter Level I & II. Then they go to the separate stations and the training continues. Volunteers must be signed off on new training to participate on calls.
“I remember going to my first fire call,” said Barnes, recounting how he had to hold back at first, but once the fire was more controlled they handed him a hose. “(Today) new recruits don’t even do that until they’ve been on for a year.”
Recruits now require more experience first and the training has become much more consistent. Barnes also recalls a time when only a few guys would have air packs, but now if there is any chance of being exposed to smoke you have one on.
Talking about recruits Barnes admitted, “It’s pretty hard to get guys to commit.”
The station will usually get two to three new recruits a year. In the rural area, Barnes added, “(We) have to rely on people in the community to step up…. We need them.”
When asked what the worst part about being a firefighter was, Barnes was quick to answer, “The fatalities…. They’re always the toughest thing to deal with.”
Living in the community you serve means “sometimes it’s somebody you know.” However, the same aspect of community that can make it so hard is also something that makes it worth it.
“The best thing (about being a firefighter) was just being with all the firefighters,” explained Barnes, noting that It’s a place full of “friendship” and “family atmosphere.”
Barnes continued, “Being able to help the community when they need you is huge!”
He added laughing, “It’s always fun driving the firetruck with the lights and sirens on.”
“Another thing I always enjoyed doing was the fundraising,” said Barnes. The Canfield Hall has held events such as fun day at the park, dances, and their annual Pig Roast, although these events had to be cancelled this year.
“That’s a huge loss for some of those charities,” Barnes said with disappointment. The Pig Roast alone usually raises around $3,000, which goes to Multiple Sclerosis and local families in need. “We like to do that stuff for our community.”
Further, the pandemic has impacted training. For three months training and practices were put on hold and then when they started again people were divided into smaller groups to limit exposure. Barnes admitted, “It’s tough to deal with.”
Normally they would do training with everyone on the station. Barnes said you can see each others’ abilities and feel comfortable working with them when going into an emergency situation. “It will affect your mindset when you’re going to a call,” Barnes explained.
Barnes has decided to retire at the end of this year. He had planned to retire last year but, “The guys talked me into staying.”
Physically the job is becoming harder, and “I’m not going to pick and choose” what calls to go to, said Barnes. “You can’t stay forever.”
Barnes said although if he could, it seems he would.