- The Westshore
- East Sooke Fire Department to benefit from provincial funding boost
East Sooke Fire Department to benefit from provincial funding boost
Volunteer fire brigade will use much-needed money to buy new hoses
Volunteer members of the East Sooke FD doing jaws of life training. Photo: East Sooke FD
Through the Community Emergency Preparedness Fund (CEPF), the provincial government is providing more than $6.2 million for 122 local projects, benefiting more than 200 volunteer and composite fire departments across B.C. The East Sooke Fire Department is one of the fire halls that will benefit from this funding.
“People in the Juan de Fuca know that their local fire departments will be there for them when they need it most,” said Ravi Parmar, MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca, when they made the announcement. But does this mean that East Sooke’s department is getting enough funding?
Fire brigades in small communities encounter unique operational challenges that stem from their reliance on dedicated volunteers and limited resources. East Sooke may just have the two smallest fire engines that could. And in addition to emergency response, the department provides training, education and community events to encourage resident volunteer participation.
One of the primary challenges for the ESFD is the availability of volunteers that it can draw from the community. The area’s small population means a limited pool of individuals willing and able to commit their time to firefighting duties, leading to potential shortages during emergencies. That’s certainly been the case, said Fire Chief Nathan Pocock, “not only because everyone is feeling the time pinch, but because new training standards were recently issued that demand more training time from our volunteers.” It’s a matter of time, but it also comes down, for Pocock, to the question of how to meet evolving standards of practice as a small, volunteer outfit.
“The office of the fire commission, who oversees all fire departments in British Columbia, released a new training standard which is good news and makes our members and the public safer, making sure there's a standard that fire departments meet,” said Chief Pocock. “However, these standards didn't exist for a long time, which means a lot of fire departments never equipped themselves to be able to train to those standards. So now we're seeing these huge additional administrative time commitments into ensuring the standards can be met.”
This constraint on resources affects the ability of volunteer fire brigades to respond promptly and effectively to incidents, as volunteers may be engaged in their regular jobs or other personal commitments. Training becomes another hurdle, as volunteers often need to balance their firefighting responsibilities with work and family obligations, making it challenging to maintain a consistently skilled and available firefighting force.
Limited budgets also restrict the acquisition of modern firefighting equipment and technology, hindering the brigade's capacity to respond to various emergencies. Maintenance and upgrading of existing equipment become crucial yet demanding tasks, as financial constraints may impede the regular replacement of aging apparatus and tools. This funding announcement then, is welcome.
Members of the East Sooke FD reviewing stabilization and lifting techniques. Photo: East Sooke FD
“We need to be flowing a minimum 150 gallons per minute through a hose at a burning residential structure fire.” The inch-and-a-half hose line ESFD currently uses is “incapable of doing that.” So, said Pocock, “we're using $23,000 from Union of BC Municipality funding to go solely towards new hose.” He estimates that he needs $42,000 in total to get hose and nozzle upgrades to get the pressurized water flow to the standard of a minimum 150 gallons per minute. “We’re half-way there,” he said.
They are also trying to buy a new squad vehicle. “We are trying to buy a truck right now and we allocated $300,000 for it,” said the chief. “And this is just a rescue truck with no pump on it. No water on it, nothing. And we're told again $300k isn't enough for trucks that cost $600k before COVID and that will now cost you over $1 million.”
Despite these challenges, the East Sooke Fire Department’s volunteer statistics are impressive. According to the chief’s report, they log on average 15 hours of volunteer time on calls per week, 32.5 hours on training activities each week, and 25-30 hours of weekly volunteer time is spent by administrative support. Chief Pocock works an average of 40.25 hours, 19.25 of which are volunteer.
And they’re doing it all on a very small budget. The 2023 CRD Consolidated Budget Overview showed that East Sooke fire hall accomplishes all of this with some of the lowest costs in fire taxes to its citizens in the region. In fire hall math, this means that if you take the budgets of all 28 fire departments in the CRD survey and divide them by their call volume to get an average cost per call, East Sooke residents spend 30% less per call than residents in any other CRD municipal jurisdiction. Despite its low cost to taxpayers, the fire department’s equipment budget requirements cannot adequately be met by either the incoming funding from the province or the UBCM, so it needs a greater infusion of funding if it's going to continue to meet both the new standards and the needs of residents.
Money aside, the East Sooke FD is always looking for more members to partake in and help in the department. Email the department or head to the fire hall Thursday nights at 6:30pm if you’d like to find out more.