story by Christina Waldner | photography by Jessi Gowan & Kurtis Kristianson
When an emergency happens, residents of Crossfield have come to rely on the Crossfield Fire Department (CFD) to respond. The volunteer fire department has been active in the community for more than 70 years and is continuing to grow, with a major renovation and expansion of its fire station near completion.
The greatly expanded building will ensure the CFD is able to continue to provide residents with the great service they’ve come to expect. Plans to expand or build a new fire station began in approximately 2010, and according to fire Chief Ben Niven, once a risk assessment was completed, keeping the station in its current location on Railway Street on the east edge of town was the best decision.
“There was lots of talk about moving locations and accessibility and how we can make it work. The final decision was to stay at the location where we were. Almost half of our calls are outside of the town limits. Where the fire hall is located currently has the best access for all membership to respond that are in town,” he said. “All direct routes have to go by that fire hall typically from the residential areas to leave town.”
The approximately $1 million renovation and construction of the 10,000 square-foot building began at the end of 2016. The building now has eight bays rather than four, as well as an onsite gym and sleeping rooms, roughly doubling the size of the old fire hall.
“We’re working through the construction with the station as it sits today,” Niven said. “The bays are all complete but the office space is still being built out.”
Niven said the CFD and Town of Crossfield made a conscious decision to include a bay for Alberta Health Services in the new building, with the hope it would eventually provide the town with an ambulance.
The CFD has three part-time paid employees, including Niven and his deputy and assistant fire chiefs, as well as 42 volunteer firefighters on the roster. Recruitment is ongoing and according to Niven, 11 new firefighters recently joined the department.
“I’m very fortunate here that I have a very dedicated team of people. Very few people have come on with us for any length of time and quit,” he said. “Most of the time it’s a retirement thing. The retention in our department is really good.”
Joining the department is open to anyone over the age of 18 who has a desire to help the community. Niven said the department accepts members from outside of Crossfield as well.
“We respond to over 550 calls a year on average out of our one station. What it takes is a willingness to learn, being adaptable and really wanting to be there to help out,” Niven said. “Recruits should not be afraid to take ongoing training because it’s a never-ending process.”
Volunteer firefighters are paid an honorarium based on the number of calls they attend, but few do it for the money, according to Niven.
“We don’t get to see people when they’re at their best. We’re there when they usually need assistance,” he said. “The ability to comprehend what you see and still provide a very professional service and be there at a moment’s notice and help out your fellow community member is what’s important.”
The department is divided into five platoons that work one week out of every five. The platoons are managed by an officer – typically a captain. This means there is always a full platoon of five to six firefighters available to go out on a call.
“It’s been a very good program. We’re always looking at ways we can make it better within the confines of staffing,” Niven said. “During the day we have, on average, six to eight firefighters in town, which is a bit of an anomaly with other fire departments of our size where a lot of their folks work outside their community.”
-Fire Chief Ben Niven