To keep a volunteer fire department running in the Cowichan Valley Regional District is a struggle these days, according to Mesachie Lake’s Fire Chief Gary Eve.
Eve spoke to the Gazette on Nov. 22, the day after he attended a regional meeting of Fire Chiefs who represent the volunteer fire departments in the district.
“We need people to keep our fire departments going,” Eve said. “And in this day and age, the last thing people want to do is volunteer, let alone volunteer for something that is dangerous.”
Eve says it’s not just the Mesachie Lake Volunteer Fire Department, but all the volunteer fire departments in the CVRD that are having this problem. And so, at the meeting, the Fire Chiefs decided on a plan of action.
“We decided to get in touch with the media, and get the word out,” Eve said. “We need to recruit people, so we’re going to try to work on recruitment and retention.
“We are a small fire department, we cover a large area, and we have a very limited budget,” added Eve. “Our annual budget is less than the average person makes in a year. It’s all volunteer and I’m very proud of it.”
The Mesachie Lake Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) has been serving the community for over 60 years. It originated as the Mesachie Lake Fire Brigade in 1949 under the direction of J.G. Webster, then steam engineer for Hillcrest Lumber Company.
In those days, its services protected the community and the mill. Today, the Mesachie Lake VFD serves the people who have chosen the quality of life that comes with living in a small community, such as any one of the many small towns that dot the circumference of Lake Cowichan.
But along with that quality of life, there is a certain isolation – isolation from the services that city-dwellers are lucky enough to have at hand through their tax-base rate.
“We don’t have a budget to pay people,” Eve stated frankly. “We live in a place where there is a small tax base, and we can’t pay people.”
Eve say it is not just his fire department, the problem is the same for all the small volunteer fire departments in the region.
Even without having to pay the firemen, there are expenses in running the department.
Eve says they have access to Gaming Grants that help to pay the cost of running the rescue truck, heating the Fire Hall, et cetera. And the volunteers have to attend training sessions to keep up with fire procedures, as well as weekly practises. Keeping up with regulatory training sessions is imperative, Eve stresses.
“We still have to maintain the same training as the other firefighters who are paid,” he commented. “In the past few years, the circle route has brought in a different category of calls for us, a lot faster accident scenes, a lot messier accidents, and again, taking more training to do it.”
The Mesachie Lake VFD are always on the lookout for new members, including women.
What are the requirements for being a firefighter?
“Healthy and willing,” Eve states. “Able to put in a couple of hours a week, and not mind being woken up at two in the morning.
“We get very few afternoon calls,” he added with a grimace.
The big thing that comes out of belonging to a volunteer fire brigade, though, is the camaraderie between the men – and women – who elect to serve their communities.
Fire Chief Eve welcomes anyone who would like to come out to a regular Monday night practice (usually 6:30 p.m.) to show up, or else phone the department and talk to anyone there, 250-749-6722.