By Tim Collins
Victoria’s fire department has come a long way from the early days of volunteer fire brigades of the 1860s, and it’s probably a very good thing.
By way of illustration, consider the cold night when Dr. Mathews’ building on Langley Street was engulfed in flames.Tiger Engine Company No. 2 (made up of Americans) arrived on the scene followed closely by the (primarily British) Deluge Engine Company No. 1. The two companies got into a disagreement about which of them should extinguish the flames — a disagreement that degenerated into fisticuffs. As the dispute raged on, so did the flames, and the building burnt to the ground.
Small wonder the volunteer companies gave way to a single, professional force of firefighters. Today that force has evolved into the proud, well-trained and equipped force of 123 men and women who staff the city’s three fire halls and two fire boats.
The evolution of the department continues, however, as firefighters find themselves called upon to do more than fire suppression.
“Our scope of service seems to be ever increasing. We are called upon for medical emergencies, marine responses, environmental emergency response, public education, and a host of other services,” said Dan Atkinson, deputy chief of Victoria’s fire department.
Take the Hoarding Education and Action Team (HEAT) for example. It’s an initiative of a group of public agencies, including the Victoria Fire Department, which is frequently a first point of contact with those afflicted or impacted by hoarding. It was not an initiative envisioned when the department was founded, yet, with a greater appreciation of the issue, the fire department was called upon for support and guidance on the issue and now take a lead role.
The department also monitors the safety of mobile commercial cooking operations (food trucks), is involved in ensuring the integrity of underground residential oil tanks, and provides free home smoke alarm visits, amongst a host of other services.
“It’s certainly a challenge to meet all the demands of an increasingly diversified scope of service,” explained Atkinson.
Even the traditionally core service of fire suppression is evolving as Victoria changes, said Atkinson, citing the increasing number of high-rise buildings in the city and noting that fighting fires in a high-rise presents a completely different set of challenges than those presented by a residential fire.
“These may be new challenges, but I’m confident in our department’s ability to handle new situations and challenges. Our firefighters are a special breed of professionals, said Atkinson.
“They train constantly and are forever upgrading and refining their skills so that, when they’re needed, they operate as a seamless team. I’m proud to be a part of that team.”