By Beth Atkinson
Chris Aubrey is the City of Langford’s new Fire Chief. Since he started his career in the Langford Fire Department as a volunteer in 2000, he has witnessed the impact that technology has had on a firefighter’s ability to fight fires more effectively.
“One of the things that we have here in Langford that’s certainly helped, is our traffic lights are tied to sirens,” says Aubrey. “So, as we’re driving down the road, it picks up the siren and will cycle the light to turn green in our direction.”
For a wildfire response, The Langford Fire Department has a special brush truck that is set up with an ATV and a trailer equipped with portable pumps and hand tools. The ground crew load up all the equipment they will need in the bush on the ATV and be self-sufficient.
Technology such as drones and drone teams, unheard of a few years ago, are the norm today. Technology coupled with training ensures that our firefighters have the tools and means necessary to fight fires. No more training one day a week for a couple of hours anymore. Langford firefighters have nine different training opportunities a week to ensure they stay proficient in everything, including training for forest fires.
At a community level, the Langford Fire Department has been working in conjunction with the Goldstream Foodbank to safeguard more homes and their inhabitants against fire. Those new to the food bank take a questionnaire to see if they have a working smoke alarm in their home. If not, a fire fighter will visit them to set one up. This joint effort has been very successful. Within the first three months, the department
gave out a year’s supply of smoke alarms.
“Because of the different types of construction materials and plastic and synthetics used inside homes today, having a working smoke alarm in your home is more important than ever,” says Aubrey. “Back in the 90’s, if your smoke alarm went off, you had close to 15 minutes to get out of the house. Now you’ve got three.”
Aubrey recommended that homeowners get a carbon monoxide detector—especially if the home has fuel or gas appliances.
With the threat of forest fires being more prominent every year, it has encouraged a greater partnership between local fire departments in the West Shore. Highlands, Metchosin,View Royal, Colwood, Langford and the RCMP are currently in conversation about how they can share resources during high-risk emergency operations.
“We are not anticipating that wildfire seasons are going to be any different from what we’ve had over the past couple of years,” says Aubrey. “If something [big] happens, all of us are going to be impacted and sharing resources just makes good sense.” “On top of that,” says Aubrey, “we also have the BC Forest Service who will bring in their water bombers!”
Collaborating for High Risk Events
Report from Colwood Fire Chief John Cassidy
In May of this year, we started looking, from an operational standpoint, at how our fire departments [in this region] could work closer together, how could we complement each other’s resources in the event of a high-risk, low-frequency fire on the West Shore.
We’ve tasked our operations officers to get together and look at communications issues, like radio procedure protocols, to ensure that we had inter-operational abilities. We also took a higher-level look at our incident command structures to see how we generally have command control of emergency incidents. Even though it’s taught at a provincial level, regions tweak their own their system to make it work for their area. Now, all three fire departments are using a similar incident command and we are in alignment for a deeper command control.
Recently, we renewed our mutual aid agreement with Langford, so when they’re in deep and out of resources, they could just radio for help—just as we’ve done for years.
One of the problems with fire departments, especially smaller fire departments, is that we have to become the Master of All Trades. That really stretches our resources and budgets. Moving forward, we are collaborating to share resources. We see View Royal’s master resource as Water Rescue because they have the biggest boat. Colwood always has been into Confined Space Rescue to the township, and next year, we’ll have a program with enough depth to provide that service to Langford, if they call on us. Langford would specialize in High Level Rescue. We’re still hoping to bring Metchosin and Highlands fire departments on board because they have a lot of area to cover and there may be services that we can provide to help them out and maybe they can bring something to the table. For example, because a large portion of the Highlands is on well, they’ve invested in a very specialized resource for their area, a huge water tanker that carries a
lot of water to fire sites.
Every fire department has something to offer. As our community grows, the requirements of community for services provided by the city will grow, too. So, the fire chiefs are working very diligently together to see where we can find ways to a greater efficiency and do it in a cost effective manner to keep our families safe.