When Eric Meredith steps into a burning building, not only is he thinking about the dangers that lie ahead, but what he can do to save the lives of those in trouble.
As a volunteer firefighter with the Metchosin Fire Department, the 52-year-old has responded to hundreds of calls in the last 12 years, all with the same goal in mind – protecting the residents of the district. “There’s nothing like helping somebody out,” said Meredith, who is also an employee of the district’s public works department and volunteer with the Shawnigan Lake Fire Department.
“We learn a lot of knowledge and skills [through training]. It really enhances our quality of life. Being a part of the fire hall, I get the chance to save an individual, which is extremely rewarding.”
As one of the roughly 33 volunteer firefighters with the department, Meredith is on call for several hours a day, responding to motor vehicle incidents, fires and medical calls. They also deal with the more unusual situations that come along with serving more than 17,000 acres of rural municipality, such as horses stuck in mud pits. Sometimes volunteers will respond to three to four calls a day, averaging about 50 calls a month, which has increased from last year when the average amount was between 25 to 32.
With calls on the rise, every day brings something different for the volunteers, but one thing is for sure, when their pager goes off with a call from the Capital Regional District’s fire dispatch centre in Langford, they’re ready to go. Volunteers drop what they’re doing – whether that be shopping for groceries, sleeping or eating out – and head to the fire hall to gear up.
Seconds can mean the difference between life and death.
While the majority of calls the department receives are medical, such as someone in cardiac arrest, there are many situations that can be extremely dangerous.
A few years ago, a small fire started in the Ferncliff Park area. Capt. Simon Chadwick was the first on scene, followed by Meredith. It was a fast-moving brush fire that had come within five feet of five or six homes, but they were able to extinguish it before it destroyed any houses.
Despite the dangers on the job, it’s the thanks volunteers receive from residents that keeps them coming back day in and day out.
“One of the most rewarding pieces is when the person that you’ve helped – and that might be a very innocent thing or it might be performing CPR – is having them come back and say ‘thank you,’” said Fire Chief Stephanie Dunlop, who started as a volunteer with the department in 2002 and has since moved her way up the ranks.
“We don’t want that recognition, but it’s so nice to know that your efforts actually changed someone’s life.”
Chadwick, who has been with the department for the past four years, agreed. “To me it’s helping people. That’s what it’s about,” he said. “That’s the nice thing about the job is you don’t know what’s going to go on tomorrow or in 10 minutes.”
The Metchosin Fire Department is currently looking for recruits, after hosting an information session recently.
Those interested must fill out an application and pass a series of tests, before being selected and going through training from January to April.
But before jumping into the position, firefighter Owen Searle said it is a serious commitment.
“I’d say to anyone who is even thinking about it, think about it and try it out. It’s not for everybody, but if you think it’s for you, it’s definitely worth the time and effort just for future skills, life skills,” he said, noting on-going training is constantly being offered.
“This is the best free education you can get anywhere.”
For more information, visit metchosinfire.ca.