An archival photo featuring the Oak Bay Fire Department's original crew.

An archival photo featuring the Oak Bay Fire Department's original crew.

Fire Department celebrates 75 years in Oak Bay

Community is still the focus for dedicated department

When the Oak Bay fire department officially opened on April 14, 1938 it had just 10 members, all men who made up for a lack of modern safety equipment with pure bravado.

When Fire Chief Gerry Adam started in 1985, the department had only recently made using self-contained breathing apparatus mandatory when entering a burning building. Prior to that, using them was considered a sign of weakness. “Real” firefighters went into fires without them and earned the coveted status of smoke eater.

“There’s just been a huge evolution of protective clothing and firefighting techniques in my short tenure here,” Adam said. “It’s quite a change.”

The department is now stocked with 26 career firefighters, men and women, manning the station 24 hours a day and responding to a wide variety of community concerns.

Personal protective gear, equipment and firefighting techniques are all areas that have seen great improvement over the department’s history. Positive pressure ventilation, larger hose lines, better turnout clothing and other advancements have made the job much safer.

Perhaps what’s changed most, said Adam, is the firefighters themselves, who now approach the job, and life in general, with a much different attitude.

“When I started you’d go into the kitchen and there’d be a layer of blue from the cigarette smoke and these old guys playing cards,” Adam said. “The bells would hit, the cards would go down and (after the call) they’d come back and pick up right where they were and never miss a beat.”

Nowadays firefighters are busy working and studying from the beginning of their shift right through to the end. The concept of personal health and fitness has come a long way too.

“Our firefighters are a lot fitter than they’ve ever been before,” Adam said.

“You go help a guy move or whatever, you open the fridge up and there’s carrot juice, whereas before it was stocked with beer. It’s just the new generation.”

One thing Adam said hasn’t changed over the years is the department’s relationship with the community, which he believes is as strong as ever.

“The guys take a real sense of pride in being involved in the community, in all aspects,” Adam said.

The department helps raise money for the fight against muscular dystrophy, for bursaries with the annual Christmas tree recycling, takes part in parades, teaches CPR to the public and more, all through volunteer hours.

“I think the community is very proud of the fire department. They know they can call us when they’re having a bad day and we can try and make it better for them, regardless of what it is,” Adam said.

“No call too small” is the longtime motto of the department.

“We’re here 24/7, 365 days, so at three o’clock in the morning, when you’re not sure what that smell is or what that noise is, we’ll come.”

Celebrating a milestone

The Oak Bay fire department will be hosting an open house on April 13 and 14, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at its vintage fire hall at 1703 Monterey Ave.

Residents are invited to come down, take a look around the hall, meet the firefighters and take in some history.

The event will include displays, featuring the Capital Regional District’s Hazmat trailer and the fire safety house.

Oak Bay’s mayor and council will also be stopping by to recognize the milestone.

Did you know?

• Since 1938, 43 members have retired from the Oak Bay Fire Department.

• The department responds to an average of 1,200 calls per year, with about 700 of those being medical, or first responder, calls.

• The largest fire in Oak Bay’s history happened prior to the formation of the department, when Patrick Arena burned down in 1929.

• Some of the biggest fires Oak Bay Fire Department has helped fight as co-responders have been the Ogden Point fire (1977), Quonley’s Market fire in Chinatown (1977) and the Standard Furniture fire on Fort St. (1987).