Having handed out little red hats to children they’ve meet on their journey through Victoria General Hospital, a group of firefighters from across Greater Victoria huddle in the VGH pediatric intensive care unit.
They have spent the past five years fundraising for the ward and are interested to see how they might be making a difference. The five-bed unit is empty the day of their visit, but as unit nurse Judy Riggs tells the group, that can change in an instant.
“We’re like the fire department. It can be like this and you come back in an hour and we’re slammed,” she says.
Riggs has been a nurse for 37 years and tales of her experience in burn wards have the firefighters hanging on her every word. When she finishes she is given an open invitation to come speak at the different locales, because the firefighters don’t believe they can do her words justice.
She also shows them some of the carts the donated money has purchased, which allow hospital staff to easily transport to bedside the various equipment used in treating patients.
“I can’t lift 100 pounds like you guys,” she says, laughing. But the firefighters weren’t laughing when they saw the older carts – some still in use – which were nothing more than Mastercraft toolboxes that Riggs says are basically dragged around the unit.
The firefighters agree, as they did when they originally began fundraising, that they could do more together as a group than they could as individual union locals.
The firefighters from Oak Bay, Saanich, Victoria, and Esquimalt, representing the Professional Firefighters of Greater Victoria, weren’t just at the hospital to visit children on Tuesday. They had a special cheque for $50,000 to present to the Victoria Hospitals Foundation as part of a 10-year, $250,000 pledge to support pediatric care at VGH.
The cheque brought the total donated to $108,000, which has gone towards creating the family room for the neonatal intensive care unit, purchasing ventilators and other life-saving equipment.
This week’s donation will go towards the purchase of an Omnibed, which is a type of incubator.
Besides the cheque, a shiny yellow fire truck was on hand for the kids to see up close. The little faces lit up at the chance to sit in the driver seat and try their hand at directing a real fire hose.
“This was the best part of the day,” said Victoria Hospitals Foundation executive director Melanie Mahlman, after watching children climb into the fire engine. She was glad some of the children could have a day outside of the hospital, getting a chance to do what kids should be doing. “It reminds us all what this is really about.”
Mahlman said less than two per cent of sick children need to leave the Island to undergo treatment in Vancouver, and support from groups such as these remind the community of treatment that is available close to home.
“It demonstrates a deep commitment from our firefighters,” she added.
Jared Barker, director of the Saanich Firefighters Charitable Foundation, tossed out a special thank you to the VGH staff. “You guys are the real heroes and inspire us every day.”
On a previous visit to the hospital he was awed by the pediatric staff and the level of care they provide for every child. “They never turn away a kid,” he said. He was especially struck by how staff seemed to treat each child like their own.
“They’re not doing it for recognition, which I think is pretty special,” he said.