By Tim Collins
John Kirkendale is a second generation firefighter for the City of Victoria and one of the young men whose job it is to work in what some have described as one of society’s most noble professions.
Of course, in true firefighter fashion, Kirkendale tends to underplay the courage required to do the job, but the pride he has in the work he does is apparent.
That work has become increasingly more challenging as the responsibilities laid at the firefighters’ doorstep continue to expand.
Take Kirkendale, for example. He will, of course, respond to structural fires with all the fearlessness we’ve come to take for granted, rushing in when everyone else is rushing out of a burning structure. He also responds to a plethora of medical emergencies and accidents, providing medical care that often saves the lives of people he may never see again.
But in Kirkendale’s case, he will also respond to emergencies on the waterways surrounding Victoria. That’s because he is one of the select group of firefighters who are qualified to operate one of the city’s two fireboats, providing help on the water for everything from boat fires to rescues to suicide attempts.
“When we get a call for a boat fire, it’s a challenge because, like all fires, you have to think about the safety of the people first. In a boat fire some of those people may still be aboard, or in the water, or somewhere else….you don’t know,” explained Kirkendale.
That was the case earlier this year when a 28-foot live-aboard caught fire in the Upper Harbour, just beyond the Selkirk Trestle Bridge.
“When we got there a few people were on shore and one was still on the water in this little dinghy. We were hoping no one was still on board. It was a fairly big blaze,” he said.
But Kirkendale loves being out on the water and, despite the challenges presented by that environment, including tides, winds and weather, the rewards in terms of the feelings of accomplishment make it all worthwhile.
“It’s not only boat fires. We have everything from kite surfers who have become stressed out on the water and need rescue to capsized boats and people who have fallen, been pushed or have jumped into the water in an effort to inflict harm upon themselves. We never know if we’re going to have to go into the water, or what the next shift will bring,” said Kirkendale.
The fireboats have another responsibilities as well, namely the protection of the environment. In the case of a boat going down, they are often the first on the scene, ready to deploy the absorbent booms to prevent gas, oil, and other pollutants from seeping from the boats, thereby mitigating the damage to those waterways.