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October 15, 2013
By Laura King


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Oct. 15, 2013, Toronto – I spent Fire Prevention Week on Vancouver Island, (ostensibly) on vacation enjoying big mountains and big trees, and spending time with big hockey-player son, a blue-liner for the Jr. A Cowichan Capitals.

Oct. 15, 2013, Toronto – I spent Fire Prevention Week on Vancouver Island, (ostensibly) on vacation enjoying big mountains and big trees, and spending time with big hockey-player son, a blue-liner for the Jr. A Cowichan Capitals.

Thoughts of magazine deadlines and preventing kitchen fires were all but gone by the time we landed in beautiful Victoria after a somewhat turbulent flight to Vancouver. Until, that is, we got to our accommodations, slightly off the beaten track near Duncan, B.C., where the Caps play.

Two hotel rooms for 10 nights – five hockey games over two weekends! – was beyond our budget, so we opted for a B&B-type establishment with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and lots of space. Perfect. Or so we thought.

As I always do, once we unloaded the car in the pitch dark and hauled everything inside, I looked up.

Nothing. Not one. Not in either bedroom, not in the area outside the bedrooms, not in the kitchen. I thought maybe there was a hardwired system that I was missing – after all, British Columbia is in the midst of an aggressive, government-supported smoke-alarm campaign led by the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C., and I was dumbfounded that a vacation property advertised on tourism websites as a little piece of paradise, with a view of spectacular Salt Spring Island, would fail to meet the province’s high fire-prevention standards.

I grabbed my laptop and looked up the fire and building codes, made sure I had my facts correct, and promptly sent significant other upstairs to politely (at first) ask the proprietor if there were hidden smoke alarms (yeah, right!) and then explain that she would need to install the devices, preferably now.

As you all know – and as I learned last week – not everyone is passionate about fire safety. “We’ve never had a fire,” she said. Yes, we knew that; if you had experienced a fire, you would have smoke alarms – lots of them.

“And no one else has ever complained,” she said. After which she argued that there are two smoke alarms on the main floor of the large, subdivided house (two, for 7,000 square feet . . .) and, that with forced air heat, surely any smoke in our self-contained downstairs suite would set off the upstairs alarms . . . eventually.

After much discussion (which I could hear downstairs, through the forced-air furnace vents), everyone agreed to disagree. The proprietor refused to drive 15 minutes into Duncan to buy alarms – 15 minutes which, to veteran hockey parents used to driving two hours and 15 minutes for games in southern Ontario traffic, is a piece of cake – but would reimburse us if we did so. Which, we did and, of course, because it was Fire Prevention Week, Kidde smoke alarms were on sale at trusty London Drugs. A package of nine-volt batteries later and mission accomplished.

We learned our lesson: we should have made sure the place was registered with the appropriate accommodations associations, and we should have asked if there were smoke alarms. More importantly, the proprietor is now aware of her responsibility, and there are smoke alarms in the suite.

Being (ostensibly) on vacation during Fire Prevention Week, and having no satellite radio in the rental car, we opted for 89.7 SUN-FM, the official radio station of . . . the Cowichan Capitals, and the station on which we listen to the play by play of every Caps game at home in Toronto.

We learned from SUN-FM that despite a desperate need for volunteer firefighters in the Cowichan Valley, firefighters from several departments gathered in Nanaimo two weekends ago to raise money for muscular dystrophy; we heard about open houses during fire-prevention week, and a fire-department parade on Saturday. And we heard lots and lots Fire Prevention Week messages.

About halfway between our newly smoke-alarm protected accommodations and The Island Savings Centre where the Capitals play, is the Cowichan Bay Volunteer Fire Rescue (CVVFD) hall, just off the Trans-Canada Highway.

Some family members who travel with me regularly are used to abrupt turns and brief stops so I can take pictures of fire stations; the sign outside the CVVFR calling for volunteers caught my eye and, because I was a passenger, I requested a quick detour, and the driver obliged. (I resisted the urge to ask for another stop Monday night when I saw the parking lot full of cars and the bay doors open for what was obviously training night.)

And I tried not to react the next day when a beautiful new fire hall in Maple Bay was pointed out to me en route back from a spectacular little spot called Genoa Bay where we had lunch – amazing B.C. crab cakes and spectacular seafood chowder. We were too far past the hall to stop and there was nowhere to turn around. Darn!

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On Sunday, Salt Spring Island Fire Chief Tom Bremner and his wife, Carol, joined us for the Capitals game vs Powell River. Bremner, who writes the Change Agent column for Fire Fighting in Canada, is a longtime friend from his days as the chief in Truro, N.S.

I tried to keep the conversation light – after all, we were (ostensibly) on vacation: hockey, the upcoming referendum on Salt Spring Island’s proposed new fire hall . . . oops.

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With Salt Spring Island Fire Chief Tom Bremner at the Island Savings Centre (also known as The Big Stick – see below).

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The stick from Expo 67 on the Island Savings Centre in Duncan, B.C., home of the Cowichan Capitals.

Although (ostensibly) on vacation, I had earmarked last Thursday as a work day to visit Salt Spring Island to see Tom and Deputy Chief AJ George, who writes the Between Alarms column for Canadian Firefighter and EMS Quarterly. Family members, who were truly on vacation, were promised funky shops and good food if they put their game faces on (which they did) for brief fire-hall and training-ground tours.

After a 20-minute ferry ride from Crofton, on Vancouver Island, to Vesuvius Bay, on Salt Spring, we headed down the road to SSI’s Station 3, where we met AJ for a quick tour. We then drove through Ganges – the retail business heart of the island –toward Fulford Station 2, a satellite station where the department’s new container-unit smoke/search-and-rescue prop is up and running.

A quick zip around the southern loop of the island brought us back to Ganges and Station 1 – a historic building in the centre of town at a busy intersection that makes it difficult for trucks to come and go and for volunteer firefighters to access the station when they are paged; the station is too small and is not built to code. Salt Spring residents vote next week in a referendum to build a new $6.5-million fire hall/EOC/search and rescue facility – department members have been feverishly working to garner support from residents.

Salt Spring Island Fire-Rescue has five full-time firefighters and about 50 volunteers for its three stations; it responds to about 550 calls a year. I learned last week that the island does not have a municipal council, rather it is part of a regional district, and there is a separate board of fire trustees. As with everything else on Salt Spring, the governance system is unique.

Why a referendum? The plan is for the island’s improvement district to borrow $5 million for the new emergency centre, to be repaid over 20 years at 2.2 per cent, which means fire-protection taxes for island property owners would increase about 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed value – or an average of $51.12 a year. The donation of the land for the new centre, the superior tanker shuttle certification and low construction costs are helping to keep the price manageable.

I’ve been in lots of fire stations from coast to coast and I’ve seen plenty of fire chiefs’ offices – most are functional but not fancy; some less so – makeshift spaces in portables and no windows. You have to see the office space in the Salt Spring fire hall this to believe it. Let’s hope the residents vote a resounding yes.

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The chief’s and deputy chief’s offices in the old Ganges station on Salt Spring Island are . . . modest.

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The moderate climate on Salt Spring Island draws tourists and summer
residents from around the world – the population swells to about 50,000
from 12,000. The warmth also allows for the growth of palm trees!

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An old SSI tradition was to have members wear oversized helmets as part
of a costume for parades and public education events. The helmets have
been retired.

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On vacation, with Deputy Chief AJ George and the department’s mini-pumper.

At the Capitals home game against Port Alberni Friday night, I heard the gentlemen behind me asking about player No. 23. I knew the player was also from Ontario, had been injured in an exhibition game in August (a puck to the jaw – broken in two places) and that Friday was his first game back, so I turned around to relay the information.

At which point I noticed the Lake Cowichan Fire Department logo on one fella’s jacket. Still (ostensibly) on vacation, I simply reached into my bag, grabbed a business card and handed it to him. We exchanged pleasantries – his community was having the fire department parade the next day that I’d heard about on SUN-FM – and he said he reads Fire Fighting in Canada and had seen me sitting at the game with Fire Chief Tom Bremner the Sunday before.

According to the map on the seat backs of the Air Canada A320 Airbus on Sunday – while the rest of you were eating turkey – we travelled 2,081 miles (3350 kilometres) from Vancouver Island to Toronto. It’s big country but a small world, in which hundreds of fire departments – mostly volunteer – and one (ostensibly) vacationing editor (and family) did their part and more for Fire Prevention Week.


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