Fire departments in the West Shore are working together to better serve their communities thanks to mutual aid agreements that have been signed in recent years.
Colwood and Langford fire departments renewed a mutual aid agreement with each other in the fall of 2018 and the agreement will last for five years. Meanwhile, View Royal and Colwood renewed their agreements about two years ago and the deal will last in perpetuity.
Mutual aid, according to Colwood Fire Chief John Cassidy, is a situation where agencies — in this case fire departments — can call on or help neighbouring agencies in times of need.
In the case of fire departments, they may call on each other to use their equipment or manpower, especially when departments are handling multiple calls at the same time.
“Mutual means mutual assurance, mutual dependency,” Cassidy said. “We depend on each other for help.”
Cassidy said when he first started working at Colwood Fire Rescue in 1999, it was rare for the department to get multiple calls at the same time.
However, as communities grow, so does the need for service.
“Now we’re doing triple-headers as a regular course of business,” Cassidy said. “As the population grows, calls go up. That’s just the nature of the beast.”
Cassidy said being able to call other departments for mutual aid gives them the ability to handle emergencies where they may not have had enough resources to do so.
Colwood Fire Rescue has been able to keep up with the greater demands for service, according to Cassidy. He said having mutual aid policies helps them manage calls and keep up with population growth.
Previous mutual aid agreements between the fire departments included a fee for service where departments would charge each other for use of their engines and resources. The new agreements, however, have eliminated the fee as the fire chiefs attempt to build closer relationships between the departments.
“We all think if we’re in the rough and we need some help we need it now, we don’t care about billing,” Cassidy said. “The overall cost is negligible when it comes to public safety.”
The mutual aid agreement has also been extended to Metchosin and Highlands fire departments by Colwood.
Cassidy said taxpayers need not worry about the cost of these agreements, because he is confident they can manage to help each other and stay within their budgets.
“We’re trying to take small, incremental steps in the right direction and see if we can do it effectively, efficiently and do it within the existing budget,” Cassidy said. “I think we can do that.”
The departments will also be able to help each other out with technical rescues such as water rescues, confined space rescues and high angle rescues that may require ropes or a ladder.
A recent house fire on Esquimalt First Nation that sent one person to hospital was a situation where mutual aid was used. View Royal, Esquimalt and Colwood fire departments worked together to put out the blaze that took place on Jan. 20.
“The general public should be very glad that individual fire services are working very closely together…and that we can provide a highly efficient, effective quality of service to our jurisdiction in a cost-effective manner,” Cassidy said. “We’re all growing, we all live next to each other…the general public expects us to be working together.”
– with files from Arnold Lim