Sooke Fire Rescue is kicking into high gear in preparation for the summer fire season.
“It’s that time of the year where we start ramping up wildfire training,” said Sooke Fire Rescue Chief Kenn Mount. “We’re getting equipment checked and starting to schedule priority training.”
It includes “engine boss” training, reviewing the latest information from the fire commissioner, and working with the B.C. Wildfire Service on the best practices for helping out elsewhere if needed. That means assessing members who have been trained for that and have received their COVID vaccine to determine who can respond to a serious situation elsewhere in the province if the situation arises, Mount said.
Sooke Fire Rescue works on seasonal preparedness with other departments on the Island, representatives from the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area, the RCMP and other agencies.
Every year, usually in July or August, fire departments deal with extreme restrictions, and questions typically arise around blasting, fireworks and chainsaws, for example, Mount said. “Smokers tossing butts is always a concern because of the number of fires started that way. Even if we get to them quickly, they’re always a drain on resources.”
A major proactive measure regarding overall fire safety revolves around Sooke Fire Rescue’s application for a grant from the Union of B.C. Municipalities for funding for a B.C. FireSmart coordinator.
“That would provide lots of boots on the ground type work, including FireSmart assessments for residential homes,” Mount said. “We would be able to prioritize high-risk areas and make recommendations to homeowners. It would also enable us to pursue grants for vegetation control and fuel mitigation strategies.”
Mount expects to find out if the application has been successful soon.
In the meantime, people can take simple steps to safeguard their homes, such as moving firewood at least 10 to 30 metres from the house and ensuring there’s no vegetation, trees or branches hanging over the house.
Mount encourages the public to follow the guidelines at firesmartbc.ca to reduce the risk of fires, especially during the summer.
“It’s simple things that make a wildfire more controllable if it approaches the community,” Mount said.
Water access has improved significantly since 2017 with the addition of a superior tanker shuttle service.
“We can move water almost the same as having access to a hydrant,” Mount said. “We also work closely with the CRD, and they have been great advising us of new hydrants with more development.”
Ongoing improvements to Highway 14 will also positively affect fire protection, with homeowners closer to Station 2 possibly benefiting from lower insurance rates. “We anticipate residents on Connie and Manzer may be in line for some discount,” Mount said.
Sooke Fire Rescue is employing an alternative training schedule because of the impact of COVID-19. Training is currently broken down into smaller groups on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday and Sunday mornings instead of one large group on Thursday evenings, as was the past.
COVID has impacted recruiting as well, Mount noted.
“Longstanding retention is always a challenge, with people moving out of the community, career changes and life changes,” he said. “It’s more difficult to implement new volunteers while maintaining a bubble. It’s a little challenging with the fire station attached to the city hall. We have to be extra vigilant to keep staff and volunteers safe, as opposed to standalone fire departments.”
Although the department hasn’t been able to recruit for two years, Sooke Fire Rescue has some excellent recruits.
“They’re young and eager, and it’s great to have several female recruits as well. We have another recruitment class planned for 2022, but that’s up in the air like everything else.”