Caycuse Volunteer Fire Department: Front row: Jodie Roach

Smoke signals

Caycuse: Survival is a day-to-day challenge for Cowichan Valley’s
smallest fire department

If you want to be a firefighter with the Caycuse volunteer hall, you’ll need a few things.

Items like a fire truck to get to the scene and a hose to douse visible flames.

You’ll also need a cap, one to hold upside down as you go door-to-door asking for money to help fund a department that’s just scraping by.

To state the hall is strapped for cash is as obvious as saying fire is hot — this is a department that can’t afford to insure all its emergency vehicles and must be careful where it spends its gas money.

“No department would run the stuff we have because it’s all junk, but it does work,” said acting fire chief Ron Couch.

“We have five trucks, one four-by-four rescue vehicle, three pumpers and one main tanker truck; four are licensed and insured, the other one we can’t afford to do it,” he said.

“If we blow a tire, we go around cap in hand looking for donations to fix the tire.”

It’s a situation that has not gone unnoticed, said the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s area director.

“No amount of effort has been spared to try and either facilitate some funding for them, or to get them a stable source of funding,” said Ian Morrison, who represents Cowichan Lake South/Skutz Falls.

“They’ve taken a look at whether they could extend the Honeymoon Bay area and call them Honeymoon Bay No. 2, all sorts of time, effort and energy has been put into finding what would be the right fit to provide some stability for those people in Caycuse.”

The problem with funding for the hall starts and ends with the situation in Caycuse where some land is owned, and other parcels are leased, Morrison explained.

“The major landowner is a forest company (TimberWest) and in order to tax, from a regional government perspective, you must have 50 per cent of the landowners holding 51 per cent of the value of the land for the area you wish to cover,” he said.

“In order to create a specified service area, the residents and landowners have to petition to create a specified funding area — that’s the whole basis of how taxation works.”

The former logging camp that sits about 20 km outside Lake Cowichan on the south shore of the lake isn’t huge.

In fact, while it swells to more than 300 families between Nitnat Lake and Honeymoon Bay during the summer months, only 14 families live in the former logging camp year round, said Couch.

Despite the low population, the fire hall still managed to attract 13 volunteer members, including five women.

“We have members from 46-years-old to 72 which makes the average age 60,” said Couch, who added getting volunteers is the easy part.

“It’s the money,” he said.

“We run on $12,000 a year, that includes fuel, heat, power, internet, phone — all expenses — and we need maybe $28,000.”

Sybille Sanderson, manager of public safety for the CVRD said she’s not unsympathetic to the Caycuse firefighters, who sometimes get grant-in-aid cash from the CVRD, a few thousand dollars here and there.

“They’re doing their best to provide that extremely valuable service to their community,” she said.

Because none of the other fire halls can offer coverage the Caycuse hall is vital in case of a fire emergency, said Sanderson.

“The nearest fire hall is Honeymoon Bay and houses are lost in minutes, so if somebody was trapped in the house and there was no one to assist … it is definitely a critical service.”

Morrison said he believes tragedy is just around the corner should the hall close.

“I’m aware of emergencies they have attended that meant the difference between life and death.”

But, said Sanderson, because the Caycuse community — which is, in fact, a society — doesn’t receive any tax support it creates a problem for the CVRD because there’s no clear way it can do any taxation-based requisition for them.

“So really, as a society, they have a couple avenues for financial support,” she said. “One is to apply to the province for gaming grants.”

The other options are going to the residents for cash injections and to request a grant-in-aid donation from the CVRD, things that have already been done.

“The challenge is, it’s not sustainable this way,” said Sanderson. “Unfortunately, at this point none of us has a really practical solution.”

As for Couch, he said the hall would keep applying for gaming grants, and look for any and all revenue to help the hall.

As for giving up, well, that’s just not going to happen.

“We’re not going anywhere,” he said.

 

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