Fallen firefighters remembered with Victoria memorial

New bronze memorial unveiled at legislature after mass march Wednesday

Bev Jennings Bazin

There are few professions more dangerous than firefighting, and even fewer that create a universal bond transcending cities, provinces and international borders.

Victoria Fire Department Lt. Gary Birtwhistle recalls that many of his colleagues flew to Manhattan in the wake of 9/11 to offer support to the hundreds of families attending funerals.

“It’s very moving, especially for us, because you obviously relate it to your brothers and sisters that you work with,” said Birtwhistle, who also serves as secretary-treasurer of the B.C. Fire Fighters Union local 730.

On Wednesday, more than 500 firefighters from across B.C. marched proudly and sombrely down Belleville and Government streets for their biennial commemoration of those lost in the line of duty.

Premier Christy Clark and the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association then unveiled a bronze fallen firefighter statue that will permanently stand on the rear legislature grounds.

A national firefighters memorial was created last year in Ottawa at the site of that city’s great fire of 1900, but B.C. had no formal recognition of the sacrifices made by the province’s firefighters until now.

B.C. artist Dean Lauze was commissioned by the provincial government to create the work.

“It’s important for both paid and unpaid firefighters,” said Darren Blackwell, local 730 president. “It’s honouring our fallen brothers and sisters.”

While more than 1,000 on-duty deaths have been documented in Canada over the past 160 years, Victoria hasn’t suffered a fatality since 1947, when Leonard Harper fell from a ladder during a training exercise at the Yates Street fire hall. There have been four VFD deaths since its inception in 1858.

Birtwhistle said firefighters have fought hard recently to gain recognition for particular cancer-related deaths due to fire exposure.

“If we do get certain types of cancers, it is presumed to be part of our occupation,” he said. “It means a lot to us that it was presumed to be in the line of duty. I’d say we still get one guy a month passing away from cancer.”

dpalmer@vicnews.com

Just Posted

Greater Victoria MP Randall Garrison calls on Ottawa to extend peacekeeping mission in Mali

The Esquimalt-Sooke-Saanich MP just returned from a trip to Mali and Senegal

Invasive crab spotted near Sooke

Fisheries need more data to know if numbers are increasing

No treatment for highly infectious measles, says doctor

10 cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver as of Friday

Credit card frauds target local businesses: VicPD

Crime Reduction Unit investigating several frauds costing several businesses over $50,000

National Energy Board approves Trans Mountain pipeline again

Next step includes cabinet voting on the controversial expansion

POLL: Will you be wearing pink to take a stand against bullying?

Schools and workplaces across Greater Victoria and around the province will be… Continue reading

Reports of rashes prompt closure of all Harrison Hot Springs pools

Public pool available after Fraser Health shut down all five mineral pools until further notice

Girl heard saying ‘Help my Dad’ in suspicious radio message on Vancouver Island

Police asking for help following mysterious signals from somewhere between Comox and Sayward

Two more measles cases confirmed in Vancouver

It brings the number of total cases within the city connected to the outbreak to ten

B.C. Special Olympics officially underway in Vernon

Athlete’s Oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Vancouver Aquarium wants your help to name a baby killer whale

The public helped name Springer’s first calf, Spirit, and is being asked to help with the second

Guards protest firing of fellow officers charged with assault at B.C. prison

Corrections officers demonstrated in Maple Ridge on Friday afternoon

Most Read