Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Town of NOTL looking for volunteer firefighters

By Kris Dube, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara-on-the-Lake Local   

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Mar. 17, 2024, Niagara on the Lake, Ont. – The Niagara-on-the-Lake fire department is seeking new volunteer members through a recruitment campaign to ensure the community is protected at the level it needs to be.

Last year, the fire department didn’t coordinate a program to draw new firefighters because it was very close to being already equipped with a target of 110 volunteers. Now, keeping upcoming retirements and resignations in mind, a 2024 recruitment program recently launched and will continue accepting applications until March 31.

“It’s the nature of the business and the volunteer firefighting world,” Fire Chief Jay Plato told The Local, adding there is a lot of “ebb and flow” in his field.

Between the five stations, one in each urban area of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Plato said his department is currently short about 13 volunteer firefighters. “We’re really at the mercy of who applies,” said Plato, noting two important pieces of criteria that need to be met for an application to be considered – you must be a resident of Niagara-on-the-Lake and live within no more than a seven-minute drive from your neighbourhood fire station.


There is also some testing and a level of fitness that needs to be met, said Plato.

Like many municipalities in the region, Niagara-on-the-Lake is one that is quickly growing and is expected to for many years when it comes to residential growth.

Are 110 volunteer firefighters enough to serve the town when there are thousands of new residents in 10 or 20 years? “We’re definitely always taking a look at that,” said Plato.

“We continually need to assess whether the current complement meets the needs of the community,” he added, also noting that the town’s 2024 population is well-served with the team in place at the moment.

Plato said the most challenging of the five firehalls to equip with volunteers is Station 1 in the Old Town, since most of that area’s residents being a bit older, many of them retired and not interested in signing up to become a firefighter.

Plato is one of seven full-time paid members of the department, and although volunteers are compensated for calls they respond to, it’s not enough to earn a living. “You’re really joining because you want to help the community,” said Plato, also adding that there are various perks such as fitness classes and a gym at the St. Davids station. “It’s not just continually showing up to do dangerous work,” he said.

Volunteer emergency responders are currently eligible for a $3,000 credit on their income tax, but there is an ongoing push by various fire chiefs, associations, and other groups in the sector petitioning the amount to $10,000, said Plato.

By Wednesday 23 applications had been received in this year’s recruitment campaign, which closes at the end of March.

On March 25, there will be open houses at all five stations from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. as part of the recruitment effort, but to also open the doors to the public who want to learn more about their local fire department.

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