Former Victoria Fire Department fire chief Richard “Rick” Couch is being remembered as a patient teacher with a quiet, confident leadership style and a dedication to his personal and firefighting families.
Couch passed away last week, roughly four months after being diagnosed with cancer. He joined the department in 1976 and retired in 2006 after spending three years as fire chief.
“He was a very caring and competent firefighter, certainly very focused on his family and on doing a good job,” said current Fire Chief Paul Bruce, who joined the VFD in 1993 and “rode the back of the Number 2 engine with Rick” out of the previous Superior and Oswego streets station for a few years. “He was very proud to be a firefighter, especially in Victoria where he grew up and spent his whole life.”
Couch’s death from cancer was the second such passing in just over a year of a former VFD fire chief. Couch’s successor, Doug Angrove, succumbed to the disease in May 2017.
Both deaths are considered to have come in the line of duty, Bruce said, and as such full honours are expected. The chief was planning to meet with Couch’s family early this week to help plan a service and memorial.
Couch was active and healthy, even in his retirement, regularly going to the gym and running, Bruce said. He was a member of the Victoria firefighters team that participated in the 2017 Ride to Conquer Cancer in honour of Angrove.
Couch’s passing leaves a sad note for the department, whose members have for years been active in working with provincial bodies on creating more stringent health and safety precautions for firefighters, and greater recognition of the connection between firefighting and long-term health risks.
“That’s one of the things we really pushed for with the union, we’ve established there’s a definite link between the toxins in the smoke and [the health damage they cause firefighters],” Bruce said.
Last year the province added a clause to the Firefighters Occupational Disease Regulation under the Workers Compensation Act to add presumptions for breast cancer, prostate cancer and multiple myeloma as occupational diseases for firefighters. As well, such practises as thoroughly cleaning firefighters’ turnout gear on the scene of a fire, and in some areas, the use of steam showers on site to do that job, have become more prevalent.
The new Victoria Fire Department public safety building on Johnson Street is expected to contain a specialized clean room where turnout gear can be sterilized of any toxins collected during active firefighting.
The Gala for Hope fundraiser this Friday (June 29) at the Crystal Garden will be raising money for the B.C. Cancer Foundation via the Ride to Conquer Cancer. For tickets or more information, email VFDGalaForHope@gmail.com.
Details of Couch’s service will be publicized once available.