Faro’s burning gas station was the scariest fire Keith Austin ever fought.
“It burnt up all the air inside (the building), so if we opened it wrong there could have been a back-draft explosion,” said Faro’s volunteer fire chief.
Austin has been carrying a radio for the past 20 years.
“Volunteering is just a fact of life in rural areas,” he said.
“You get a few volunteers doing everything.”
Some of his eight volunteer firefighters also carry radios for emergency medical services.
The only difference is, the ambulance attendants get paid to do it.
“They bitched loudest and got the government’s attention,” said Austin, referencing last year’s strike, when volunteers walked off the job in Watson Lake and Dawson.
But just like ambulance attendants, volunteer firefighters are risking their lives, he said.
While fighting fire, the volunteers are paid, but on-call duties are carried out for free.
“I’ve got to make sure if I go somewhere, there’s someone else around,” said Austin, patting the radio in his breast pocket.
“So it gets to be a juggling act.”
There are two other volunteers with radios, but on Tuesday, Austin was the only one around. The others were either at work or out of town.
For years, Austin, with the help of the Yukon Association of Fire Chiefs, has been lobbying the government for better compensation.
“In the winter your vehicle is plugged in 24/7,” he said.
Austin needs more volunteers.
“Because you never know who’s in town,” he said.
Although Faro is fairly quiet, there’s been a “rash of arsons in the last few years.”
The gas station was most likely arson, although the investigation is ongoing.
And before that, two buildings ended up on fire at the same time. One was the Tiltin’ Hilton.
“So we had to split our crew,” said Austin.
“Good thing, the (Tiltin’ Hilton) fire was just little, or it could have been a real pain.”
The other building, an abandoned triplex, burned to the ground.
The RCMP used to be able to help the fire crew, until its policy changed earlier this year, added Austin.
Yukon volunteer fire chiefs and deputy chiefs get an extra honorarium, but volunteer firefighters still need more compensation, he said.
The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs is meeting in Whitehorse in September, and Austin hopes to raise the issue then.