Thanks to some money from an unlikely source, the Watten volunteer fire department have been able to replace a crucial tool in their inventory.
The department was one of the recipients of funding from the Jenny's Heroes Canada Ontario Fire Services Equipment Grant.
Watten fire chief Chad Buist explained that the need for the money arose after their “Jaws of Life”—a tool designed for cutting traffic accident victims out of twisted wreckage—broke.
“Recently, we were doing a training exercise and our pair broke,” Buist said.
“So we were trying to figure out how we were going to come up with $18,000 to replace it.”
Buist said that since the Watten fire department is volunteer-run, it operates on a yearly budget of $11,000, making a large purchase like a replacement “Jaws of Life” prohibitively costly.
The original tool used by the department was donated by the Scofield family following the death of their son, Reece, in a traffic accident.
The tool was purchased for $12,000 in 1996, and had been used by the Watten fire department until it broke during the training exercise.
Having not a lot of other options—Buist pointed out most of their fundraising is done through a yearly fish fry and flea market—the Watten fire department turned to an unexpected source.
“We applied for a grant, it was through "Jenny's Heroes," which is Jenny Jones, the American talk show host,” Buist said.
“She's out on the West Coast now, but she's from London, Ont. originally, so that's why she sponsors volunteer fire departments in Ontario.”
The Watten fire department was ultimately successful with its application and received the $18,000 they needed, for which Buist credited the Scofield's story and original donation.
“Jenny called me and I talked to her for a while, which is really remarkable, that she'd make the time to speak about why she picked us,” Buist recalled.
“She went on about how important it was to her, considering the fact that the Scofield family felt that it was worth donating $12,000 to make it available to the next accident victim, that's why she picked us.”
“That was pretty special as far as I was concerned,” he continued.
“That she wanted to kind of keep the memory of Reece going and the fact that the family wanted us to have that equipment.”
Buist noted that some of the volunteers have already had the chance to train with the new tool, which is a considerable upgrade from the old one, which weighed in somewhere between 75-100 pounds.
“It's a necessary tool, and it's a lot more modern than the one we had before,” he said.
“This one's 40 pounds and it's a battery pack, like a cordless drill, where the old one, you needed a generator and hydraulic lines, and it took a lot longer to start up.”
The new piece of equipment is also extra versatile with a two-in-one design, meaning it can both cut and spread metal, allowing for volunteers to act more quickly to remove victims from wreckage than if it could only perform one function.
“We respond to anywhere from 12 to 60 calls in a year, about half of them are highway accidents,” Buist said.
“Having these tools to be able to get them out of the vehicle for the paramedics to get them to the hospital is critical. We always shoot for that golden hour. In pre-hospital care, if you can get someone to a trauma centre within an hour, their odds of survival are a lot better.”
Overall, Buist is grateful to Jones, the Scofield family and the grant program, and said getting the new jaws of life is critical to the work the Watten fire department does.
“Again, it's the newest best most modern equipment that we could possibly want,” he said.
“It's everything we need, and we look forward to it being added to the truck and having something that's able to get someone out of a trapped vehicle situation so they can get to the hospital as fast as possible.”