Battling the fundraising burden

Safe Community program helps cover equipment, training costs for small town first responders

Barbecues, bar service, and boisterous outhouse races. Keeping firefighters well equipped in a small community takes all of that and more.

Funding from the village of Vibank, a community of 400 in south-central Saskatchewan, simply isn’t enough to cover the costs of fire safety gear and equipment. Volunteer firefighters make up the difference with creative fundraising.

For years, members of the Vibank Volunteer Fire Department have avoided the need to upgrade turnout gear – patching and repairing fire suits scarred, and occasionally melted in places, by heat and flame. But recently, says fire chief Terry Pekrul, the crew was told the gear is so old, it couldn’t be fixed.

“We’re in a small town, so we don’t get that many calls. Our gear sits in the fire hall for months at a time, but we need to feel safe when we put it on,” he says.

New regulations call for fire suits to be replaced after 10 years, which recently left Vibank’s firefighters with no choice but to update their entire inventory of turnout suits.

In order to outfit its 13 volunteers, the Vibank Volunteer Fire Department amped up its fundraising efforts. But with new head-to-toe gear costing $9,000 per firefighter, “you don’t pull that kind of money out of the air in a small town,” says Pekrul.

In recent months, Enbridge stepped up to help Pekrul and his crew’s fundraising efforts with a $15,700 Safe Community grant. Established in 2002 in the United States, and 2009 in Canada, our Safe Community program awards grants to first-response organizations in the communities near our projects and operations by helping to fund safety equipment, training, or educational programs.

Enbridge is committed to enhancing safety, and enriching the lives, of our neighbors. Our proposed $7.5-billion Line 3 Replacement Program, the largest project in Enbridge history, will present economic opportunities in communities across the prairies as we replace one of our mainline right-of-way crude oil pipelines from Hardisty, Alta., to Superior, Wis. In Saskatchewan, the L3R program is expected to generate more than $183.9 million in tax revenue during its construction phase.

Les Scott, a Regina-based senior advisor of public affairs, has been with Enbridge since 1986, and has driven past the Vibank fire hall for 29 years. “It’s a community we have some of our staff living in,” he says. “It gives you a sense of pride, knowing you’re working for a company that cares and gives back to the community.”

The Safe Community grant has eased some of the burden of fundraising, Pekrul says, and helped deliver updated turnout gear, balaclavas, fire gloves and boots for his volunteers.

“Enbridge has taken a load off our shoulders. We were scrambling for money. We’d make a few hundred dollars here, a few thousand there,” he says. “Now we’ve got a seven-year cushion where we don’t have to worry about gear unless something goes wrong.”