Fire Chief Mark Wyatt works 24 hours a day from Monday to Friday for the Rankin Inlet Fire Department.
He’s on call all night along with paid volunteers ready to respond to any emergencies. The only other full-time staff in the hamlet’s protective services department is a bylaw officer, who takes over as acting fire chief when Wyatt is away.
That’s why the hamlet decided in a March council meeting to boost the department’s budget by $160,000, which will increase fees to on-call volunteers and allow for the hiring of a full-time deputy fire chief.
“We do over 700 calls a year, which is a busy department,” said Wyatt, comparing that to a previous fire department he worked in that had nine full-time staff and 50 on-call volunteers for just 600 calls a year.
A deputy fire chief will provide the department more support, Wyatt more relief and also allow for more fire prevention work, such as servicing the fire extinguishers in town and checking smoke alarms.
Wyatt praised the 18 on-call volunteers the department has, but said he ideally wants 10 more.
“They work really hard,” said Wyatt. “They’re on call 24 hours a day. They get up in the middle of the night, no matter what. We respond to calls in blizzards, it doesn’t matter. We’re the only department apart from public works for the roads that works no matter what.”
Volunteers receive a stipend for being on call and fees for each call they respond to.
“We have the best trained fire department in Nunavut, no question about it,” said Wyatt.
“And we have an awful lot of people who are really dedicated to this department, not just because they get paid for what they do, but also what we do for the community in addition to responding to calls. We’re as effective as any full-time fire department with volunteers because of what we do.”
In addition to fighting fires and responding to calls, the department regularly holds community events like the Easter egg hunt, haunted firehall during Halloween and other special events. Members also fundraise for new equipment outside of the department’s budget, such as a rescue side-by-side for responding to tundra fires and taking on veterinary services in town.
“It builds sense of community in the fire department, and it’s just what we do,” said Wyatt.
“The fire department isn’t just, or shouldn’t just, be there to respond to emergencies. We should be there for the community in everything we do.”
It’s important for Wyatt that the department is involved in good times in the community, because members see the worst in their day-to-day work.
“I could tell you stories for days of terrible things that people should never, ever have to see,” said Wyatt. “But the reality of it is, if we don’t build a team that can deal with that sort of stuff nobody’s going to deal with it. That’s what fire departments are all about.”
That’s why mental health first aid, supporting each other and debriefing after major calls is important.
“There are a lot of horrible things that happen in the world, and somebody has to be there to make it better for everybody else,” said Wyatt. “We have to be at our best on people’s worst days, all the time.”
Wyatt said there will be a job posting for the deputy fire chief position in the next month or two.
The department does a recruitment drive for volunteers once a year, but anyone interested in joining can drop by the office and talk to Wyatt about what volunteering entails.