Fire Chief Paul Hurst has been with View Royal for 35 years, beginning as a volunteer when he was 16. (Photo courtesy of Paul Hurst)

Fire Chief Paul Hurst has been with View Royal for 35 years, beginning as a volunteer when he was 16. (Photo courtesy of Paul Hurst)

View Royal chief revisits 35 years of heading into the fire

Paul Hurst has no plans to stop now

Rick Stiebel

News Staff

Paul Hurst didn’t have to wait for his baptism by fire.

Just hours after signing on as a volunteer on his 16th birthday, Hurst found himself inside a building engulfed in flames.

“It was at the old Cambridge Motel,” recalled Hurst in an interview with the Gazette reflecting on his 35 years with View Royal Fire Rescue. “I was inside a burning building at 2 o’clock in the morning the day after I filled in the paperwork.

Things have changed a lot since 1984. You can’t put a volunteer on a truck now without 18 months of training.”

“Mom tells me I wanted to be a firefighter from the time I was five or six,” said Hurst, who followed the path of his father, George, a long-time volunteer with the View Royal fire department.

“I started going to the hall with my dad when I was 12, washing trucks and emptying garbage cans.”

Hurst explored a number of career paths before he became a full-time firefighter in 1988. He juggled part-time work with BC Ambulance Service in Sooke and served five years as an Auxiliary Constable with the West Shore RCMP while volunteering with the View Royal fire department.

RELATED: View Royal salutes Fire Chief Paul Hurst’s service

“There’s a lot of things you can do in your early 20s that I can’t imagine doing now,” said Hurst, View Royal’s fire chief since 2005.

That may include telling former fire chief Frank Bell that he wanted his job when Bell once asked him “What the hell are you going to do with the rest of your life?” he admitted with a chuckle.

Fire Chief Paul Hurst has been with View Royal for 35 years, beginning as a volunteer when he was 16. (Photo courtesy of Paul Hurst)

Hurst came close to a career in the military after he enlisted as a firefighter when he was 18.

“I got hired by View Royal just before I was deployed to Borden. I chose View Royal over the air force and never looked back.”

His daughter, Meagan, is enrolled in officer training at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. “It’s pretty cool and I’m very proud of her,” he said. “She’s the fourth generation of Hursts in the military.”

Hurst has no plans to retire at this time, but indicated it will probably coincide with whenever his wife, Laurie, decides to retire from her position as Chief Administrative Officer with the Township of Esquimalt.

“I’m not going anywhere soon,” he stressed. I still love this job and I don’t know what I’d do without it. It’s incredibly rewarding on so many levels, lots of highs, lots of lows and in betweens. This job has taught me empathy and compassion and it’s made me cynical as well. It’s never boring because you never know what’s next.”

RELATED: Nine-year-old from fire released from B.C. Children’s hospital

Although he received an award for bravery while he was off duty in 2013 for saving the life of a little girl trapped in a house fire, Hurst has a different interpretation than most people of what constitutes a hero.

“The plumber who shows up at 3 a.m. to fix a broken pipe in my house is a hero. The people who plow the snow away so I can get to work are heroes as well. It’s all a matter of perspective.

“At the end of the day firefighting is a blue collar job. We’re not curing cancer, we’re just trying to help people out like everyone else,” said Hurst. “The difference is we drive expensive trucks and wear uniforms.”

A surprise visit from a young woman holds a special place in Hurst’s heart, despite the tragic circumstances that surrounded their first meeting.

She was only six when the department came to her aid after the rest of her family died in a truly horrific set of circumstances.

“She showed up in my office 20 years later to say everything in her life was awesome,” Hurst shared.

“Things like that stick with you forever.”

The other side of that equation is that Hurst can tell you every intersection or street in View Royal where someone has died in a crash.

“It’s an incredible responsibility to be with someone in their last moments.”

READ ALSO: Years of ‘horrific, violent accidents’ at Thetis Lake prompt plea to public

One of the biggest positive changes he’s observed since he began his career is how the perception of the challenges of the work has changed over the years.

“We have a better understanding of the stresses of the job, whether it’s PTSD or cancer,” he explained.

“Back in the day you were just told to suck it up. We now recognize the accumulative effects the job has on some individuals physically and mentally.”

“The job is not for everyone,” he continued. “It kicks the crap out of you physically. I’ve lost so many friends to all kinds of cancer since I started. You get paid great money, but you have to learn to enjoy every day.”

One element that remains constant is Hurst’s appreciation for the department’s volunteer firefighters.

The View Royal department has relied on 278 volunteers since 1948, and he was the 116th to sign up.

“It’s a real juggling act for volunteers, balancing their home life and family and job with the expectations of a fire chief. We don’t have a fire hall without those volunteers,” said Hurst.

“I’m really happy and excited when a volunteer leaves for a full-time position in Victoria or Vancouver, but at the same time you’re losing great people.

“You trust your life with these people, our lives are in each other’s hands. The connections and friendships you make are something you cherish for a lifetime.”

RELATED: West Shore fire departments seek new recruits

rick.stiebel@goldstreamgazette.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

View Royal chief revisits 35 years of heading into the fire

View Royal fire crews battle a structure fire in the District of Highlands. Fire chief Paul Hurst says being a firefighter is both extremely challenging and rewarding. (Photo Courtesy of Paul Hurst)

View Royal fire crews battle a structure fire in the District of Highlands. Fire chief Paul Hurst says being a firefighter is both extremely challenging and rewarding. (Photo Courtesy of Paul Hurst)

Just Posted

GIF
’90s rock band resurfaces with songs never properly recorded or released

Underwater Sunshine’s online reunion involves four guys who lost contact for years

Tim Siebert, one half of the partnership behind Citrus & Cane, says opening the Douglas Street cocktail lounge during a pandemic had challenges, but the bar is ready to adapt to whatever comes next. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
New Victoria tropical cocktail lounge designed with COVID-19 safety in mind

Citrus & Cane opens in site of former Copper Owl after eight-month delay

Kennedy Nikel, applied marine biologist at Cascadia Seaweed, here seen in late September, shows off bull kelp (in her left hand) and rock weed. The company is spear-heading an annual seaweed festival scheduled for May 13-21, 2021, with Sidney council have signed off in principle. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Cascadia hopes to see Sidney host seaweed festival in May 2021

Council supports the idea in principle following a presentation by Cascadia Seaweed

Trevor Davis, base manager of the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation in Sidney, stands in front of the Hecate Sentinal, an oil skimming vessel based at Sidney’s Van Isle Marina. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Oil spill response base taking shape on Saanich Peninsula

Enhanced base with elements in North Saanich and Sidney to be fully operational in fall 2022

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A man walks by a COVID-19 test pod at the Vancouver airport in this undated handout photo. A study has launched to investigate the safest and most efficient way to rapidly test for COVID-19 in people taking off from the Vancouver airport. The airport authority says the study that got underway Friday at WestJet’s domestic check-in area is the first of its kind in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Vancouver Airport Authority *MANDATORY CREDIT*
COVID-19 rapid test study launches at Vancouver airport for departing passengers

Airport authority says that a positive rapid test result does not constitute a medical diagnosis for COVID-19

A small crash in the water south of Courtenay Saturday afternoon. Two men had to be rescued, but reports indicate there were no serious injuries. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Small plane crash in Comox Valley waters Saturday afternoon

Two rescued from plane that had flipped in water; no serious injuries reported

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

The Ahousaht First Nation confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Nov. 26, 2020. (Westerly file photo)
Ahousaht First Nation on lockdown over COVID-19

“Emotions are high. The anxiety is high. We want our community to pull through.”

Most Read