Saanich Fire Department is joining the B.C. wildfire fight, sending four firefighters and one engine to Williams Lake.
Following their Wednesday morning briefing the foursome set out for the first ferry. As they await their first mission from the Williams Lake staging location, the crew will be deployed under the direction of the Office of the Fire Commissioner.
“At the moment our crew is there for structure fires and structure protection,” said Deputy Fire Chief Dan Wood. “The crew is on a six- to 14-day cycle, depending on the situation.”
Capt. Robert Heppell, a Saanich firefighter of 28 years, will captain the crew.
“Most of my expertise is with structural fires, fortunately there’s a great deal of experience in our group with wildland fires,” Heppell said. “It’s good to have that mix of experience.”
Heppell will travel with longtime Saanich firefighter Ron Benedict and two other firefighters, Aaron Charlton and Lauren Beddington. The latter duo bring much-needed wildfire experience as they originally came to the Saanich Fire Department from the B.C. Wildfire Service.
Charlton was based out of Riske Creek near Williams Lake for four years and Beddington was based out of Princeton for seven.
“We travelled to Kelowna, Seattle, back east, Yukon, it’s a very interesting part of that job, to see different places and parts of B.C.,” Beddington said. “[But] we’ve never seen anything like this, not this fast. We’ve seen big fires, but not like this.”
Beddington explained the importance of having experienced firefighters who can deal with the structures when the wildfires come into the urban areas.
“Once wildfires interface with buildings, it’s very beneficial to have structure firefighters, who are good at what they do, while the forest service is good at what they do,” Beddington said. “The structure firefighters will know how to deal with hazardous materials in buildings and protecting them.”
A provincial emergency was declared on July 7, and Wood has been in talks with the Office of the Fire Commissioner since then.
While there, the province covers the food and lodging for the firefighters. The crew will be with a “service-ready engine” that’s one of two extra engines which sit on standby in Saanich.
“Residents can rest assured that Saanich will [remain] well protected,” Wood said.