Risky business
Fire department operates with bare essentials

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

ARCTIC BAY (Feb 02/98) - "It's the most dangerous job in the community. You're putting your life on the line to be a volunteer."

The words are Tommy Kilabuk's, a former Arctic Bay volunteer fire chief who's now returning to the fire department, at the request of hamlet and volunteers, from a three-year hiatus.

He gave up the post three years ago with intentions of moving to Pangnirtung, but eventually his plans fell through when his wife became ill.

During Kilabuk's time off, the fire brigade took a turn for the worst, he said, sparking his interest to return.

"I was the only one capable of taking over," said Kilabuk. "I'm willing to get the fire department back on its feet."

Disorganization and difficulties at the fire hall were evident three weeks ago, when a fire broke out in the community.

The fire brigade was alerted to the housing association building fire at 4 a.m.

Volunteers rushed to the hall and tried to start the fire truck, but it wouldn't turn over -- it was frozen solid. The furnace must have broken down, said Kilabuk.

Hamlet water trucks were then quickly rounded up to rush firefighters to the scene.

Surprisingly, the department's fire-hose adapters fitted to the water truck, which allowed crews, dressed in bunker gear without breathing apparatuses -- they were broken, too -- to attack the fire with water hoses.

Lucky, the building was saved, said Kilabuk.

Kilabuk has many complaints with the fire department.

First of all, he said, the building is poorly located.It's also difficult to pull out and manoeuvre the fire truck from the hall and respond to an emergency.

And the fire truck is rundown because it has not been maintained properly in the last couple of years.

Most of the 20 volunteers are unskilled, there's not enough safety equipment to go around and there are only two breathing apparatuses at the hall, which are currently under repair.

Another problem they are still working on is an emergency phone system.

If a resident were to call in an emergency, no one would be there to pick up the phone, said Kilabuk.

Instead, their best bet would be to phone him at home. He could rush to the fire hall and get things going while his wife telephoned the other volunteers.

In the middle of the night, it will take about 15 minutes for a crew to respond to an emergency, if the volunteers are within reach.

"It's kind of on the rough side for the community," said Kilabuk. "But right now we're pretty well prepared."

Kilabuk is optimistic he can turns things around.

He will be working with the hamlet to find funds to get sufficient equipment and repair the fire truck. Honoraria are also being discussed as an added bonus for volunteers.

In the past, volunteers would get $2 for every practice and $5 for fires. "It's really nothing, but then again, it's volunteer," he said.