Sooke Fire Rescue is seeing unprecedented demand for service while dealing with volunteer staff shortages.
“This year can only be described as the busiest time on record for the fire department,” Fire Chief Steven Sorensen said in a report to District of Sooke council.
So far this year, Sooke Fire Rescue has responded to 454 calls, compared to 316 for the same period in 2014. Among the calls this year are 12 structure fires, 33 motor vehicle accidents and 256 first responder calls.
Sorensen expects the volume to increase as the warm, dry summer continues throughout the South Coast. To make matters worse, the fire department is challenged to respond to calls with fewer volunteer firefighters.
The department has seen a 40 percent drop in the number of firefighters available to respond to fires and with a number of firefighters away on vacation or injured, the situation becomes more difficult.
“The likelihood of an incident or incidents overwhelming resources is a probability that cannot be overlooked,” Sorensen said.
In recent weeks, several serious motor vehicle accidents have occurred along Sooke Road and there’s a marked increase in fire activity with several structure fires. The most serious of those was the Grant Manor fire on July 4 where 18 people were left homeless.
Sorensen said due to the increase in structure fires, Sooke Fire Rescue has increasingly used mutual aid with other fire department to ensure sufficient personnel and equipment is available.
Ideally, Sorensen would like to have 40 active volunteer firefighters and five full-time staff.
Sorensen has recommended that the district give “immediate consideration” to hiring two more paid staff: a firefighter, who would also be responsible for volunteer recruitment and retention, and a second fire inspector. He’s also made a request for additional equipment
Any staff changes or equipment buys won’t likely arrive soon.
District council at its July 20 meeting decided to conduct an independent review of the fire department. Results of the review are expected by late fall.
The district has done several reports and surveys over the years on the fire department, but previous councils failed to act on the recommendations, said Mayor Maja Tait.
“It’s time we did that,” she said. “We want to come up with a concrete plan moving forward.”
Sorensen is encouraged by the review.
“It never hurts to have someone from the outside look in to see what your doing and how you’re doing things. When you’re in it everyday maybe you don’t see things that are so obvious,” he said.
“We have a pretty good idea, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have someone confirm or say you’re way out in left field.”