It started in 1919 with 1,000 feet of fire hose and one firefighter.
Saanich celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Saanich Fire Department with a gathering on Tuesday morning, at which Chief Michael Burgess recognized the department’s growth to 123 uniformed members, seven support staff and three fire stations.
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To commemorate the centennial Saanich and Saanich Fire will host a series of events throughout the year. Specifically, there will be a memorial service and an open house at Saanich’s municipal hall fire station on Vernon Avenue.
“Certainly [firefighting has] changed considerably in the last three decades,” said Chief Michael Burgess, who is now in his 30th year with the department. “Saanich’s fire stations and firefighting equipment have changed drastically over the last 100 years, but the passion and dedication of our team is as strong as ever.
In 2018 Saanich Fire responded to 4,578 calls for service. The total number of calls was actually down from 2017, though over the past 10 years there’s been a consistent increase in calls of about four per cent.
What’s significant is that fire calls are a static number at about eight per cent of the total emergency call volume, while the leading number of calls is 45 per cent to medical incidents, 15 per cent to motor vehicle incidents and 14 per cent to alarms (no fire). Ten per cent of calls are cancelled, which was 438 last year.
“While the community is growing we don’t see as many fires in that regard,” Burgess said. “It’s not going down, nor is it going up, we like to think it’s reflective of life safety practices, as we want to educate people before something happens.”
Saanich Fire is now a $20 million annual operation that provides mutual aid to other municipalities, including Oak Bay, and ensures Saanich is prepared for and able to respond and recover from major emergencies and disasters. The modernization includes mechanical and high angle rescue services, a major role in the regional hazardous materials response team, managing their own fire dispatch 911 services, fire prevention education, conducting building inspections and fire investigations. Other techniques that weren’t around 20-some years ago include standard use of foam, thermal imaging cameras, computer-aided dispatch and on-board computers.
The coming memorial and ceremonies will honour exemplary longstanding service with medals for members who’ve reached 25 and 30 years and will also honour the two workplace deaths that happened in the Saanich Fire department’s history as well as those deaths that were deemed related to exposure to the hazards in firefighting.