Norman Wells fire crew ‘bust their butts’ to reach new training level
By Aastha Sethi, Local Journalism Initiative reporterHeadlines News Training firefighter training
Nov. 8, 2023, Norman Wells, N.W.T. – Except for the fire chief, the Northwest Territories community’s fire department is made up of volunteers.
Portions of the training, known as NFPA 1001, form a “rigorous and intensive program that pushes the boundaries of fire fighting skills to new heights,” the town said last month – adding this is the first time its firefighters have achieved such a level.
“Our firefighters spent almost every other weekend of their own time to take this training,” Mayor of Norman Wells Frank Pope told Cabin Radio.
“They bust their butts to do this,” Pope said. “Now we have a very, very well-trained fire department for our community.”
Firefighters Brandon Scott, Drayton Walker, Craig Walter, Esker Norman and Jason Caskenette have completed the training assessment. Pope said eight to 10 more people are “almost ready” to be certified.
He said the town’s fire department is currently fully staffed with a waiting list for memberships.
The training involves studying several modules followed by a two-phase evaluation process, for which the town’s firefighters went to Inuvik.
In phase one, firefighters demonstrate basic skills and are tested on gear knowledge. The second phase requires them to perform vehicle extrications and have a search-and-rescue operation evaluated in a live fire environment.
After clearing the first stage, the Norman Wells crew joined six Inuvik firefighters – Noel Cockney, Carl Morada, Daniel Dokunmu, Paul Hayes, Trevor Page and Eric Williams – who were also ready for their phase two evaluations.
Brian Larman, chief of the Inuvik Fire Department, said having the two crews work through their evaluations together was good from a “cross-training” perspective, as it gave them an opportunity to learn about different municipalities, firefighting strategies and training methods.
Brandon Scott, Norman Wells’ fire chief, said the biggest training challenge as a volunteer department is assembling firefighters who already have work responsibilities.
“My crew, they all have full-time jobs. It was a big challenge and a big commitment from those guys to be able to make this happen,” he said.
Scott said the department began training for the NFPA 1001 in January, and it will increase the town’s ability to save houses.
Prior to getting this certification, Pope said, firefighters in town “did what they could” to put fires out but had to be “very careful” about it – sticking to regulations and restrictions appropriate for their level of certification.
Drayton Walker, one of firefighters who received the 1001 certification, recalled a fire earlier this year from which a dog needed to be rescued.
“Had that fire been bigger or out of control, we would not have been able to rescue the dog because we didn’t have proper training,” he said.
Walker said the recent wildfire season was an eye-opener for the town and the department. And while there haven’t been many fires in Norman Wells recently, he said – and the past few didn’t cause significant damage to properties – there’s sometimes more risk in winter when wood stoves are frequently used.
He said the new training allows crew members to potentially rescue people trapped in a house fire, characterizing their new qualifications as moving from “defensive” fire fighting (tackling fires from the outside) to “offensive” fire fighting.
The next step for Norman Wells is working with the team in Inuvik to finish hazardous materials training.
Former Hay River fire chief Ross Potter recommended that the Norman Wells Fire Department get its 1001 certification after training with the team last year.
“I’ve been an advocate for seeing the small communities get to a decent level of training for fire fighting,” Potter told Cabin Radio. “It’s something I’ve been interested in for numerous years.”
Potter, a firefighter for 40 years, spent some time coaching Norman Wells’ firefighters, both in the town and virtually.
“The department definitely put in an awful lot of work to get to where they are now – both in their own time, and also while I was there,” he said.
In Inuvik, Larman said his department hosts evaluations by working closely with B.C.’s College of the Rockies, a partnership arranged through the N.W.T.’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.
He said this was Inuvik’s first time hosting evaluations, which are typically done in Hay River – but were cancelled this summer because of the town’s wildfire evacuation.
“We are hoping to host more of these evaluations in the future as well,” Larman said.
“The key goal of this program is bringing up the level of professionalism within the fire services in N.W.T.
“The more we can do, the better to protect our communities.”
– Cabin Radio
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