There are many generous corporate citizens on the South Shore, then there is Freeman Lumber, whose owners view the community in which they have operated lumber mills since 1832 a part of their family.
Last week, at the Greenfield and District Fire Department, Charlie and Richard Freeman announced their company was donating 13 sets of personal protective equipment (bunker gear) and other employee incentives to the 13 Greenfield firefighters who are employed at the Freeman mill.
This latest generous donation from the Freeman family is valued at more than $30,000.
The Freemans also confirmed that the firefighters who work at the mill will be allowed to leave work to fight fires and deal with other emergencies in the district served by the fire department – with no loss of salary.
In the event of an overnight fire, firefighters will be permitted to take the next day off, no questions asked.
And when some of those firefighters complete training as certified medical first responders, they, too, will be allowed to leave work at the mill to respond to medical emergencies within the Greenfield community.
“There’s nothing more important than having a fire department and emergency services in a small rural community. We want to do everything we can to help, so we are working with the fire department to ensure the volunteers are properly equipped in order to perform their tasks safely,” said Richard Freeman.
“Our family’s interest is in trying to maintain a viable community. We live in Greenfield, we have many good employees who live with their families in Greenfield, we have friends in the area, as well as other community businesses to protect,” added Freeman, whose company has 150 workers on the payroll.
Freeman Lumber is one of the oldest family-run sawmill businesses in North America. The mills produce approximately 100 million board feet of lumber and value-added lumber products annually.
Moyal Conrad has been chief of the 37-member Greenfield fire department for nine years, and has worked at the Freeman mill for 25 years, most recently as planing mill supervisor.
“The Freeman family has always supported the fire department. Charlie Freeman served for 40 years, and many members of the family are active in the department today,” said Conrad.
Conrad said Greenfield is a tight community and that Richard Freeman and he did everything together as kids – boating, movies, driving in the woods – and that his father and Charlie Freeman are best friends.
“Without the Freeman family, Greenfield wouldn’t be much of a community. They built the school, the church, cenotaph, sports court, rec centre and more. Their generosity is unbelievable,” said Conrad.
“Charlie always gives us a big donation every year. Last year it was $15,000 to put a new steel roof on the fire hall after a heavy storm blew off the old roof. The year before he gave us money toward a new truck, and the year before that he bought us a new thermal image camera,” he said.
This financial boost is welcomed warmly by the fire department, which receives roughly $40,000 a year from the Region of Queens Municipality. Another $20,000 to $30,000 is needed yearly just to cover costs.
And much of the fire department’s apparatus is largely beyond its best-before date. In the truck bays sit a 32-year-old tanker, 20-year-old pumper, and a rescue truck that is approaching its 12th birthday.
“On the positive side, we got a new tanker three years ago, the first new truck we got in a long time. This year we are up again for a new pumper/rescue truck,” said Conrad.
To make ends meet, the fire department hosts a variety of fundraisers throughout the year, including the immensely popular planked salmon supper offered every July, and the turkey dinner in November.
Region of Queens Municipality Mayor David Dagley, in a telephone interview, said fire departments often experience difficulties attracting volunteers, and there are some innovative ways to achieve success.
“If there is a synergy between volunteer fire departments and private businesses, then that’s good for Queens. We support fire departments and want them to do well and operate safely,” said Dagley.
“Freeman Lumber has been a good corporate member of the community and very supportive of initiatives in the Greenfield area. They are outstanding in that regard,” added Dagley.
Troy Mutch, president of the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association, and a firefighter with the Maskwacis Fire Department in Alberta, applauded Freeman’s contribution.
“It appears to be a good example of a private/public partnership. And having more firefighters working at the mill enhances the company’s protection, and the community at large is better protected as well. It sounds like a good deal for everyone,” said Mutch, during a telephone interview from his home in Alberta.
“Equipping firefighters with personal protective equipment is costly, so Freeman’s commitment to covering these costs is great for a fire department that must rely heavily on fundraisers to pay for such items. It’s an awesome initiative by the company, and I’m sure the chief played a role in this as well,” added Mutch.