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HELPERS: Everyday heroes: Volunteer firefighters drop everything to help their communities

It’s demanding, it’s challenging and you gain a new family when you volunteer as a firefighter, and that’s why Haley Piitz loves volunteering with Tiny Fire Department
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After two years as a volunteer firefighter for Tiny Fire Department, Haley Piitz feels like she is prepared for any situation.

You don’t have to be a big hero to be a volunteer firefighter for the Tiny Fire Department, but having a big heart and a lot of strength certainly helps.

For Haley Piitz, volunteering firefighting fulfils her passion for helping others. Piitz has been a volunteer firefighter for two years, and she’s just one of 93 committed volunteers serving Tiny’s five fire stations.

It may be hard to imagine a family that large, but that’s what Piitz calls the members of the Tiny Fire Department. Piitz explains that she doesn’t go out on calls with the same individuals for each call because she’s a volunteer.

“We change it up, and the guys that I work with are like family,” says Piitz, beaming about her firefighting brethren.

“Being able to get out there and get through things together has been amazing. When you’re in the middle of a call, you access all of the training that prepared you for that moment. Afterwards, when you reflect, it feels so rewarding.”

Piitz says she started volunteering because she’s always been there for other people.

“I enjoy problem-solving,” says Piitz, “and I always try to fix a problem and make it work.”

That is what makes firefighting equally appealing and challenging. Every day is different.

According to the Firefighter Recruitment Guide, you could be called out to a call for anything from a fire, to childbirth, to a chemical spill, to a medical emergency and almost any other emergency imaginable.

For the mother of two, Piitz says having a nurturing nature has served her well in some situations.

“Being a mother certainly allows you to take in the whole situation. On a call, you’re there for everyone,” explains Piitz. “If there’s a patient that we’re dealing with, you have to be there for the families.”

With so many variables involved in the work every day, “you may go into this thinking I like to help, and I like to be there for others, but I don’t really know that much about how to deal with this [situation],” says Piitz. “The training is so incredible. It prepares you for every situation.”

The learning for volunteers is ongoing, and there is training and education once a week, says Piitz.

Dan Bell, Tiny's deputy fire chief, clarified that the preparation for volunteer firefighting is a lengthy process.

“It takes six to eight months to train a volunteer before they’re ready to go in the truck,” says Bell.

Part of the reason that local fire departments have so many volunteers is because the work is demanding, and “there’s a certain amount of attrition each year,” according to Bell.

The physical aspect of the job is nothing if not demanding.

In order to qualify as a volunteer, you have to pass a physical test that is nearly as vigorous as the test given to full-time firefighters. It requires you to navigate confined spaces, in the dark, raise the ladder, handle heavy tools, equipment, the fire hose, and carry a 175-pound dummy. That’s to say nothing of the weight of the fire-resistant protective gear.

The job also calls for some outreach in schools reminding people to be safe near campfires, while cooking at home, and making sure folks replace the batteries in their smoke alarms.

“When it comes to volunteer fire,” says Piitz, “we have a full-time job, and then we do this as well. It requires a bit more of your time, but it’s definitely rewarding.”

Being there for your team is amazing and it’s important, according to Piitz.

Volunteer firefighting “allows you to be a huge part of the community. I love my community here. I have grown more of a family here,” says Piitz. “It’s nice to feel like I’m there for them.”

If you’re interested in volunteering as a firefighter, the local fire departments in Tiny, Tay, Midland, Penetanguishene and Georgian Bay (township) are actively recruiting. You can find more information in the Joint Firefighter Recruitment Orientation Guide.

Applications are due Sept. 30, 2021 by 4 p.m., and are included in the recruitment guide.