Steinbach's Fire Chief says the department lost probably 80 years of experience due to retirements in 2017.
Kel Toews says the most notable retirement was former Fire Chief Mark Loewen who hung up his helmet after 40 years as a firefighter. Loewen spent about 12 years as Chief before resigning in 2013. Though no longer Chief, Loewen decided to stay on with the department and continue responding to calls. After four decades he has now closed that chapter of his life.
"Under his leadership, we turned a big corner as far as being more professional," credits Toews. "Going away from the good old boys, so to speak and becoming a much more professional fire department."
Toews says Loewen was able to impart his knowledge to the younger members of the department and also helped considerably with his transition to Chief.
"Helping out when I asked for it and staying in the background when I didn't," says Toews. "It's been a pleasure working with him for the twenty-six years I've been on the department."
According to Toews, the department recruited 8 members in 2017. But with 8 retirements last year, it means they are at net zero. He suggests they may need to hold a more aggressive recruitment drive in 2018.
"We will be hiring more this year," he says. "We're looking to lessen the burden on the firefighters to perhaps have a larger number of members on the department."
The workload has certainly intensified in recent years for Steinbach firefighters. In fact, 2017 was a record year with 372 calls for service. Yet, Toews is quick to point out that even if the extra work is a factor in some of their retirements, it is probably not the greatest factor. He says in most cases it is probably lifestyle changes that make it more difficult for firefighters to commit to the role.
"The time commitment requirements of the department are becoming greater," says Toews. "But for the most part, they've expressed the fact that they haven't been able to commit the time to the department that they would like to."