One group of women has helped build Langford’s fire department from the beginning.
In fact, those women have been standing up for their community for 65 years with one goal in mind: providing assistance to Langford’s firefighters and their families whenever and wherever possible.
Since its formation in 1950, the Women’s Auxiliary of the Langford Volunteer Firefighters Association has contributed more than just baked goodies to raise funds for the cause – they helped purchase and build the first fire hall.
“What an amazing group,” said Langford fire chief Bob Beckett. “They’re a very large component of the fire department family.” He said they had just retired some members with over 50 years of commitment to the service.
Celebrating 65 years this September, the Women’s Auxiliary has undertaken a number of projects and fundraising endeavours. The fruits of their labours are the purchase of new kitchen equipment, televisions for the lounges and firefighting equipment, as well as helping with the renovations of all three fire halls over the decades.
Beckett said that while the purpose of the group has shifted over the years, and equipment purchases are now the responsibility of the municipality, the group has looked for new ways to contribute to the community, establishing bursaries for firefighters to further their post secondary education.
He said that the group also helps with the department’s open house in October every year and this fall the women will be cooking up a storm, providing a free pancake and sausage breakfast, as well as a hotdog lunch. “They’ll feed hundreds of families,” he said.
“We’re just fortunate that we’re still needed,” said Auxiliary vice-president Kim Engelstad. She has been volunteering for five years, which she said didn’t compare to the service time of more senior members, some of whom have dedicated up to 54 years to the organization.
“I wanted to give back,” said Engelstad, who has a medical background, but didn’t want to volunteer at a hospital. “This was an avenue for meeting like-minded women.”
Those women have been strengthening the foundation of Langford’s fire program for a very long time.
Back in 2004, a founding member, Barbara “Babs” Poole, wrote a letter to the group, outlining how it all got started. Her husband, the fire chief, would phone asking if she could bring sandwiches for the crew when they were out on an extended call and needed to eat.
In 1949, she convened a meeting with the other wives and a year later they formed the Women’s Auxiliary. They not only made lunches, but they fundraised in every way they could think of, holding bake sales and strawberry teas. Those efforts contributed to the purchase of the first firefighting jackets and helped build Langford’s first fire hall.
“At one point it was one of the wives who drove the ambulance,” said Engelstad, adding they had helped fundraise for that very ambulance. Many of the women would help with the day shift because it was usually understaffed while most of their husbands worked in town. “They needed help,” she said, and the women were happy to provide it.
These days, the Women’s Auxiliary offers slightly different services. They still provide meals and offer assistance for families that are going through a tough time due to illness or loss, but they now also offer bursaries for firefighters to further their skills and training through post-secondary education.
The group counts about 14 active members, but the numbers can swell to upwards of 25 at times, Engelstad said.
The efforts of former members have not been forgotten. After extensive research and the help of the Canadian Firefighters magazine, the group discovered it may be the oldest existing Firefighters Women’s Auxiliary in all of Canada.
Through their research, they have compiled a list of 277 names of former members and are working on tracking down as many as possible, with the plan to invite them to a celebration tea taking place on Sept. 27. Former members can email or call Kim Engelstad, email@example.com, 250-474-2699.