By Tim Collins
For a significant part of its history, firefighting services within Esquimalt were provided through a joint force of men who served double duty as both police officers and firefighters.
This arrangement led to some serious difficulties, at times putting the Township of Esquimalt in violation of an agreement they had signed with the other three Greater Victoria municipalities for mutual fire protection and often putting the township at odds with the police union.
The situation was further complicated by the unique relationship between Esquimalt and the Naval Fire Department at the Department of National Defense base.
It wasn’t until 2003 that a new era dawned for Esquimalt when the Police-Fire Department ended operations and the new Esquimalt Fire Rescue was formed.
The department has come a long way since then and, according to fire chief Chris Jancowski, the 27-member force has distinguished itself as a modern, efficient group of professionals who are always training to improve their skills and knowledge.
Jancowski came to the department just over two years ago after a career that saw him start as a volunteer firefighter when he was only 17 years old. He worked in Colwood and then as deputy chief in Quallicum Beach prior to coming to Esquimalt.
“Being a smaller department has allowed us to embrace some modern technologies much more quickly than would be possible in a larger force,” said Jancowski, citing the use of iPads by his men as a prime example of that embrace of new concepts in firefighting.
“By using that technology the firefighters are able to be fully aware of a developing situation as they travel to an event. They know in advance the physical layout of the area, whether there are hazardous materials on-site, if there are any injuries…every aspect of any situation in real time,” explained Jancowski.
Like most fire departments, the Esquimalt force does far more than respond to fires. Of the more than 1,500 calls a year they attend, the majority are for medical aid, but some also include other emergencies such as the spill of hazardous materials.
They participate in school programs, teaching fire safety to primary school children, conduct workplace fire inspections, and assist young parents in the proper installation of car seats.
“The firefighters in Esquimalt are a spectacular group of dedicated individuals who, despite the relatively young age of the department, are as well trained and capable a group of dedicated individuals as I’ve ever seen,” said Jancowski.
“I’ve been here for only two years, but I can’t say enough positive things about this force. They are special people, to be sure.”