Fire departments in the Cowichan Valley were kept on their toes in the aftermath of the massive windstorm that struck the region last month.
The fire departments had to deal with at least 100 calls for service during and after the storm, with the majority dealing with downed trees that also took out power lines, leaving thousands of BC Hydro customers in the Valley without power for more than a week, in some cases.
Doug Knott, chief of the Lake Cowichan volunteer fire department, said the department’s firefighters were answering calls for service for several days due to the windstorm.
“We were very busy; much busier than usual at that time of year,” he said.
“We were out on calls about trees and power lines down on roads and other calls beginning with the windstorm and going right through Christmas; ranging from car accidents, river rescues and requests for medical assistance.”
Among the calls the fire department was called to assist with in the days following the windstorm was a single-vehicle accident on Highway 18 on Dec. 27 that took the life of a 68 year-old Lake Cowichan man.
Lake Cowichan firefighters also responded to a three-vehicle accident, also on Highway 18, on Dec. 22 that sent three people to hospital, and a man adrift in a boat on Cowichan River on Dec, 24 who eventually managed to save himself.
Many of the fire departments had to call in the majority of their members to help deal with the crisis.
Fortunately, with power out at many of the firefighters’ main jobs, most were available for duty quickly when called upon.
Rob MacDowell, chief at North Cowichan’s South End fire department, said 42 calls for service were received from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Dec. 20, the day of the storm.
He said the department usually receives about seven calls on a normal day.
“The vast majority of those calls were to help deal with downed trees and power lines across roads and properties, while we had one rescue call and a structure fire on that day as well,” MacDowell said.
“The day started with about 13 firefighters at the department, but we had about 27 working by the evening.”
MacDowell said the firefighters’ main job in dealing with downed power lines is to clear the area of people to ensure their safety and wait for crews from BC Hydro to deal with the live power lines.
“There was a lot of hazards working outside that day, with debris and branches flying around everywhere,” MacDowell said.
“It was one of the worst storms we have had to deal with in some time, but at least it wasn’t a major snowstorm, which could have been worse again.”
Ron Beck, chief of the Mill Bay fire department, said the department had 21 calls for service after the storm, with most also having to deal with power lines and trees down on roads.
He said firefighters from Mill Bay were also called to two structure fires, which were unrelated to the windstorm, in the busy two days beginning on Dec. 20.
“We had up to 13 of our firefighters working pretty steady over those two days, when we typically have about three at the hall,” Beck said.
Beck said jokingly that if there’s one lesson that the firefighters took home with them from the experience of the windstorm and its aftermath it’s that they should be living in Puerto Vallarta.
Randy Busch, chief at the Sahtlam fire department, said up to 15 calls for service were received on Dec. 20, while the department typically receives no more than two a day.
Again, as with the rest of the fire departments, most of those calls were related to downed trees and power lines.
He said firefighters were racing all over the area dealing with calls; from Paldi to Riverbottom.
“We were very fortunate that we had no calls for service that didn’t have to do with downed trees and power lines,” Busch said.
“We usually get at least one wind event every year and we do our best to prepare for them. This was a big one and we hope it’s that last one for the season.”