Dean Ford

Highlands calls on neighbours for help

Saanich, Langford and View Royal residents can now apply to be firefighters with the Highlands Fire Department.

Saanich, Langford and View Royal residents can now apply to be firefighters with the Highlands Fire Department.

With a 17-member crew, Dean Ford, acting fire chief, decided he needed to get more creative in building up the department.

“An ideal number would be 30,” he said, adding they rely on mutual aid from Langford and View Royal fire departments.

“A lot of our volunteers live in Highlands and work in town (Victoria),” he said, adding it takes too long for those members to make it back to battle a fire. “If there is a fire here and someone who works at Costco is a volunteer they will get here faster than a Highlands resident working in town.”

For years Highlands and other volunteer departments on the West Shore required volunteers to live in the municipality they apply to serve so other departments don’t suffer. Ford says he ensured other departments were on board with this new approach.

Anyone over 18 years old living outside of Highlands can apply, so long as they live or work within a 15-minute drive to either the west fire hall, 1564 Millstream Rdl, or the east fire hall, 3613 Woodridge Place.

Anyone living on Bear Mountain or near Westshore Towncentre would be eligible to apply for the west hall and Saanich residents living as far away as Tillicum Mall-area could apply for the east hall.

Some residents on Bear Mountain may feel they are better suited for the Highlands department.

“We shy away from people on Bear Mountain due to response times,” said fire Chief Bob Beckett, adding the skills each volunteer can bring to the table does play a large factor in their assessment.

Langford has three fire halls and once candidates are shortlisted, the department looks at the location of the potential volunteers’ homes to assess potential response times.

Often when Langford seeks volunteers they may have up to 45 applicants vying for five positions.

“If someone wants to be a firefighter in Highlands and live in Langford that doesn’t stop them from becoming a Langford firefighter down the road,” Beckett said. “It’s a great opportunity for them if they want to help out the Highlands.”

The Saanich Fire Department is a career department that doesn’t accept volunteers, making this is the first time people in Saanich have had the opportunity to be a volunteer firefighter.

Already Highlands has received an application from a Saanich resident within the catchment.

When the Saanich Fire Department begins recruiting it can receive anywhere from 100 to 300 applications from would-be firefighters from across the province.

“Out of those maybe 20 or 30 come from residents of Saanich,” said Frank MacDonald, Saanich deputy fire chief. “At the end of the day most volunteer departments are having a tough time finding people.”

Many of Saanich volunteer groups including Saanich Search and Rescue, Emergency Social Services and Amateur Radio group are made up of members from across Greater Victoria.

Out-of-district applications for Highlands are only accepted from people who want to fight fires. Weekly training sessions are held Thursdays from 6:30 to 10 p.m.

All first responders for medical emergencies must live within the district.

“It’s to make it useful. I don’t need people from Westshore Town Centre racing the ambulance to get here,” Ford said.

Highlands residents can also now volunteer to specifically be a firefighter, a medical first responder or an auxiliary firefighter.

Retired firefighters with at least seven years experience can become auxiliary members to drive trucks and shuttle water, instead of entering burning buildings or other tasks.

“Every department has been struggling to get volunteers,” said Ford. “We are creating ways to cast a broader net to a broader audience.”

 

The deadline to apply is Dec. 15 and training will begin in January. Applications can be found at www.highlands.bc.ca.