Picture this. Something happens, and you need to call 9-1-1. You give them your address, then anxiously await their arrival. Half an hour goes by, still nothing.
Turns out, emergency crews can’t find your house because your address is covered in several feet of wild bush and one of the letters has fallen off.
As it happens, it’s a common problem for all fire, police and ambulance crews, who receive a call but have nowhere to go because the address sign is missing or can’t be seen from the street.
Trivial that a simple sign could be so much trouble, but all emergency personnel pose the big question: what if the Grim Reaper finds you first?
East Sooke Fire Chief Roger Beck recalls being paged to a recent medical call, but all emergency vehicles drove right by the address because the street sign was overgrown with ivy and shrubs.
Another case that springs to his memory is a woman’s husband having a heart attack. Similarly, the emergency response was delayed because no signeage was in place to show which house on the 4 on 10 block (four houses per each 10 acre parcel of land) was the one that made the call.
And in the event of a heart attack, seconds matter.
“It could well have cost her husband his life. It didn’t, so we were lucky, but it could have,” Beck said, adding she was warned there may not be a next time if the poor signeage, or lack thereof, continues on.
“When you’re emotional, when it’s a close call like that, then yes, the time is right to do something about your address signs,” he said.
The incident resonated so deeply with some East Sooke 4 on 10 residents that several developments now have maps showing all the main drives, the numbers of each house up that drive, and then a nest of all eight numbers in numerical order.
Beck is concerned with the latest strata 4 on 10 design as these developments usually have a single driveway, without any indication on whether or not the driveway constitutes as a road, which leaves individual addresses out of view from the main road.
“If the sign on your house can’t be seen from the street, then you have to put another number at the street,” he said, adding that some people have avoided doing this because they feel their privacy is more important than their own protection.
Mind you, 4 on 10’s are not the only culprits here. Adding to the problem are signs placed only to face the way the residents travel back and forth, not towards the other direction as well, where an emergency vehicle could be approaching from.
As Otter Point Fire Chief Kevan Brehart puts it, this is a common issue not only in East Sooke, but in Otter Point, Sooke, as well as other rural areas.
“There are homes where the sign is not clearly visible, and often they will put up a sign facing Sooke, so if you come from Sooke you see their sign, but if you come from the west, or the opposite direction of where they come from, you can’t see it,” Brehart said.
Just recently, Brehart and his team responded to a call where the sign was pointing down Kemp Lake road, because typically everyone comes up Kemp Lake Road, but for them, coming down from the Otter Point fire hall, they drove right by.
This only highlights the importance of two-way address signs, in addition to the letters and numbers themselves being reflective and visible at night.
“Put them perpendicular to the road so that they can be read from both directions. It’s the ones that are angled, facing down, or towards one direction that cause issues not only for us [fire department] but for police and ambulance too,” he said.
Not to mention the pizza guy, who, by the time he’ll find your house, your pizza will have probably turned into a cold, mushy mess.
Brehart said majority of locals have good signs, but there’s still a fair number who have bad ones; just enough to cause problems.
And even though Sooke has actual street lights as opposed to East Sooke, Otter Point and Juan de Fuca area, Sooke Fire Rescue Chief Steven Sorensen said his department still faces finding unreadable and non-existent signs in the dark from time to time, again, caught in a race of life and death.
“If your address is visible during the day, it may not mean it is visible during the night as well. If you have a dark coloured number or a dark-coloured background, and you don’t have your porch light on, it might as well not be there,” Sorensen said.
He suggested the easiest way to test the effectiveness of their signeage for anyone living in a rural area is to see if they can find their address in pitch black darkness.
“It’s usually a nighttime issue, so when you come from an event at night, try to find your address. If you struggle to find it, then we’re never gonna find it,” he said.