The definition of a firefighter according to the Oxford Dictionary is “A person whose job is to extinguish fires.”
Most if not all people know there is so much more than that single line of text.
For Steve Notman, a captain of the Stettler Regional Fire Department, this statement is a major part of his life.
Notman moved from Scotland when he was 11 years old and has lived in and around Stettler ever since.
It wasn’t until 15 years ago that Notman decided to join the local fire department because a friend of his introduced him to the world of firefighting.
“9/11 definitely woke me up to the need and I had been approached earlier but unfortunately I couldn’t leave my work to come and do what’s required.
“A friend actually introduced me the one night. We came down and I never stopped since,” said Notman.
Helping out his community was a highlight of being a firefighter.
“When we roll out of here, 90 per cent of the time we are physically seeing people that could have been in the store that I was working at 10 minutes ago you know. It’s that close. I love the training that this department goes above and beyond. It’s unheard of but that’s a good thing,” he said.
Along with community came hospitality as people would do the best with what they had to make sure the firefighters were looked after even though they were the ones who were having problems like losing a house.
“A lady who was living over here and her house caught fire. We got to it quickly but sadly she lost most of her house but she came back later on and actually gave us a cheque towards the fire service because she was so grateful of the fact we had been so fast and done our due diligence,” said Notman.
“There was another one where we had a family out of town who – his son’s home caught fire because of coal and we were out there a long time and we kept saying ‘We’re starving, we got to go get something to eat’ because we burn a lot of calories.
“We actually stopped and ate and came back here to find out that that guy had gone and gotten us roasts made up, potatoes, like the whole nine yards, was laying out here.
“I mean he just lost his son’s house but I mean wow it was like mindblowing.”
The crew naturally took leftovers home for them and their families.
What makes a great firefighter according to Notman is through the value of experience and education.
“A good firefighter learns his skills, a great firefighter teaches those skills and passes down to the next generation. The saying goes ‘An old firefighter teaches a young firefighter how to be an old firefighter’.”
The 56-year-old explained that sometimes the volunteer position can be trying as it takes strong mental capabilities to rise above what might happen in a difficult situation.
“A lot of it is dealing with the trauma,” he said. “I think it was something
I wasn’t quite prepared for and it is quite shocking sometimes but we have a good system in place here where we can get through it which helps immensely.”
Notman carries a multitude of stories regarding calls over the years but one really stuck out in his mind.
The longest the captain had ever been on shift was for 16 hours straight.
There was a plane crash between Donalda and Bashaw suffering two casualties eight to 10 years ago.
Stettler’s fire department responded at approximately 7 p.m. when it was just beginning to get dark outside.
The crew was standing on top of the two-seater plane and they didn’t even know at first because it was buried so deep into the ground.
“The RCMP from Stettler were already there. We were going out there saying ‘Where is this thing?’ because you can smell the AV fuel in the air.
They were laughing at us because we asked ‘What’s going on?’ and they just pointed down and into the ground, there is a little flashing red light,” said Notman. “That was a sad, sad night that day.”
“A few firefighters were asked to stay to protect the scene and the bodies.
He and another member stayed all night with the Donalda fire chief doing this.
“The next morning, a crew with an excavator came to dig up the remains of the plane.
“We turned around and there was this whole line of news crew and several of our firefighters and a police officer from Bashaw jumped in to the hole and found certain things and removed them.”
“He stayed there for most of the second day digging down to remove most of the debris as environment needed to inspect the area.
“It was a long, long night and a long, long day,” said Notman. “It was kind of surreal when you were looking down into the ground and you see that little flashing light going off and you’re like ‘I’m standing on it’.”
Stettler’s fire department covers a large area with multiple departments like Big Valley and Byemoor.
Stettler’s department has roughly 30 members of its own.
The department meets every Monday night to go over safety training and discuss issues or procedures that may have arose from an incident leading up to that meeting throughout the week.
“A lot of people don’t realize that every Monday night we are here. Well, usually three times out of the month we are here training from 7 o’clock at night till 10 or 11 o’clock at night depending on what it is,” he said. “It makes us better and gives you that little extra edge on the training.”