An open house with fire truck rides and a fire truck parade will help mark the 50th anniversary of the North Saanich Volunteer Fire Department.
The celebrations runs Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Wain Road fire hall with food available by donation to Santa Anonymous. Panorama Recreation Centre staff will be present with a bouncy castle as part of the entertainment.
According to a chronology from the department, it became operational in June 1972 after North Saanich and Sidney had formed independent fire services in 1971, some six years after the incorporation of North Saanich, following population growth in the area. Sidney had incorporated in 1952.
The department initially included 16 volunteers and purchased its first vehicle for $35,000. Two volunteers flew to Montreal to receive the vehicle, before driving it back to North Saanich. A black-and-white photo commemorating this cross-country journey still hangs on the wall of the main entrance at the Wain Road hall.
Much has changed since in terms of equipment, facilities, services offered, training and department composition among other areas.
For example, the department in 1994 added the medical first responder program to assist BC Ambulance Service with medical calls. One year later, the department hired its first career chief (Gary Wilton) in 1995.
In 1999, the department started its first annual Dean Park Christmas Fire Truck Food Drive. Colleagues from Sidney and Central Saanich have since joined those efforts to collect thousands of dollars and thousands of pounds of food for the Saanich Peninsula Lions Food Bank.
In 2001, Anna Trelford became the first female firefighter in North Saanich. A career deputy chief and three career firefighters have joined the department during the last decade or so. This year, the department is introducing overnight staffing that sees volunteers staff the Wain Road hall overnight for a stipend.
Chief John Trelford has seen, experienced and guided many of these changes during his 26 years of service with the department.
Looking ahead, Trelford sees two large areas of change.
“Where it used to be 100 per cent volunteer, we are needing more career staff to meet the needs of our community and the demands of the calls,” said Trelford. “But also we are having to find some incentives for the volunteers to regularly come out.”
One discouragement for current and future volunteers is the high cost of living in the area. Households with two adults need both of them to be working, meaning less time for other activities, he said. They may also be looking for other more affordable places to live. “It’s getting harder to retain volunteers for any length of time,” he said. “They can’t afford to stay.”
The increasingly complex nature of buildings is another changing aspect, he said, pointing to the department’s responsibility for the airport buildings, several large commercial structures in the industrial area and eight marinas.
One aspect that has remained steady, however, is the department’s commitment to community, as evident in the department’s thank-you message.
“It is both the support of the community and those who choose to volunteer that maintain this central beacon of our community and is why we have and will continue, with pride, to serve the North Saanich Volunteer Fire Department,” it reads. “Here’s to the next 50 years.”
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