By Craig Westcott
October 6, 2023 Edition
If Duane Antle could have his way, it’s not only firefighters whom people would be turning their thoughts to come Fire Prevention Week, but also their families.
The president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services says the families of firefighters are just as important as the firefighters themselves because of the support network they provide to allow their loved ones to do their jobs, whether they are volunteer firefighters, or paid ones.
“You’ll often hear us to refer to it as the fire family,” said Antle, who is a member of the Come By Chance Fire Department in addition to his duties with the NLAF. “My wife is just as involved as I am. Maybe not out on a scene, or anything like that, but when it comes to supporting us, our spouses are our real support system. I’ll put it to you this way: if my wife came along to me and said, ‘I’m going to take a job now, it’s not actually going to pay, it’s actually going to cost us money in some cases. I’m going to spend a lot of time away from you. There’s going to be times when we’re celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and the pager is going to go off and I’m just going to have to leave you there and I’m going to go out, and you’re not going to know what I’m facing, you’re not going to know what kind of danger I’m in, and you’re not going to hear from me, because I’m going to be busy, and there’s also a possibility that when I do go to do this job, I may not come home.'”
Antle admitted he doesn’t think he could agree to it. Yet, that’s what spouses, and partners and children and parents of volunteer firefighters accept.
“They’re the real heroes here,” said Antle. “A lot of people don’t realize that. The folks who are willing to stay at home and make life comfortable for us and let us do what we do – they never get recognized enough.”
Often, being a partner of a firefighter means picking up the slack on things that need doing at home.
“Take during Snowmageddon when we were out trying to help people,” said Antle. “We should have been home with our families, but they had to carry that burden themselves. During (Hurricane) Igor, while I was out serving my community, my wife was out gassing up generators and keeping the kids happy, and looking after everything on her own, and really, I should have been home with them. But that’s what they do for us.”
That said, it’s still a rewarding feeling to be a volunteer firefighter, said Antle. And he would like to see more people sign up. In fact, because of the demographics and the need for many people to commute long distances to work, many volunteer fire departments are short of members these days.
He’s confident those departments would gladly welcome new members from among the many new immigrants who have been coming to Newfoundland recently. Antle allowed the newcomers would enjoy the social aspect of being a volunteer firefighter.
“Because there is a social aspect to it,” he said. “There’s a sense of belonging that comes with it. That’s what reeled me in in the first place. It had nothing to do with money, it had nothing to do with looking to be a hero, or anything like that. A friend of mine was always talking about the fire hall and the fire family, and it appealed to me. So, I got involved and got hooked and now it’s pretty much become my life, and not just my life, it’s my family’s life too.”
Antle has been answering the call going on some 33 years.
And if you think your local volunteer firefighters seem to have an extra spring in their step, Antle doesn’t deny it.
“There’s a lot of calls that bring you down, because they all don’t turn out great,” he said. “But for the most part, speaking from my experience, when you walk away knowing that you made a difference in somebody’s life, that you were there for them during their darkest hour, that you were one of the people who showed them they weren’t alone, gave them some hope maybe – that is a tremendous feeling.”