Firefighter burns through the ranks

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

When asked, many firefighters will say they got into it because of a desire to help others.

Kara Slous, 25, is no exception. 

But what she discovered is that firefighting gave back to her as much as she has given to it.

In her four years with the Tappen-Sunnybrae Fire Department, Slous has advanced to a number of key roles. She's been a captain, is now a training officer, a member of the Shuswap Emergency Program Structural Protection Unit, is the Area C representative for the Occupational Health and Safety Committee, co-chairs the Fire Services Occupational Health and Safety Committee and was recently certified as a CSRD Live Fire Instructor.

"Firefighting has taught me so much about myself. It's not all learning fire skills. I've learned about leadership, about teamwork. Becoming a firefighter is about improving yourself while helping others."

Currently all fire departments in the Columbia Shuswap Regional District are actively looking for new members. Recruits are needed to maintain appropriate standards of operation and fire fighters provide a critical service to their communities. Volunteers are paid on-call for their response, training and practices. As well, all required personal protective equipment and training are provided – there are no out of pocket costs.

Slous started as a firefighter after becoming a South Shuswap First Responder. Her skills and dedication quickly came to the attention of other volunteers who were also part of the fire department. They encouraged her to give it a try, so she showed up to the regular Tuesday night fire practice.

"It was pretty exciting, it was diverse and there was a lot to learn. I caught the bug."

Slous says there's a lot of satisfaction in driving up to a scene knowing you have the skills and training to be helping others on what can be one of the worst days of their lives.

"It's about seeing the whole picture – knowing how to follow and when to lead. It's about facing fears and finding strength to make decisions in the worst circumstances. It's not about being a hero. It's not about us, it's about them," Slous says.

As a young woman, Slous is not the typical image of a burly male firefighter, but she has not experienced the sting of sexism during her years at the fire department, noting this would not be tolerated. There are eight women currently stationed at the Tappen-Sunnybrae fire hall and many other women helping throughout the region.

"You do the work, you be respectful of the training and everyone will see you as a firefighter. We all have different skills and abilities, but there hasn't been any firefighting job or skill that I haven't been able to find my way to accomplish. That goes the same for everyone, woman or man."

Slous sends that message to anyone who might be considering joining one of the CSRD's 13 fire departments – just show up.

"Shadow, watch us at practice, see if you are interested."

Prospective volunteers are always welcome to go to any CSRD fire hall on training night and find out more, can call Sean Coubrough, Fire Services Coordinator, at 250-833-5955 or email fire@csrd.bc.ca for more information.

Becoming a firefighter.
What you need to know

No previous experience is necessary to become a volunteer firefighter and volunteers train to professional standards.
Volunteer firefighters are all ages, male and female, and come from many diverse backgrounds.
All required personal protective equipment and training are provided — there are no out-of-pocket costs.
Volunteer firefighters commit to two hours a week of training at their local fire hall.
Volunteer firefighters receive insurance coverage through WorkSafe BC, 24 hour accident insurance coverage and $100,000 life insurance in case of accidental death.
The federal government provides tax credits to volunteer firefighters who serve at least 200 hours per year.

Photo credits: (Above) Kara Slous participates in training at the Tappen-Sunnybrae Fire Hall, which takes place Tuesday evenings at 7:00 PM. (Ryan Gray Photo)

(Left) Kara Slous assesses the scene at an auto extrication exercise. (Photo contributed)