The Sooke Fire Rescue is a modern, full-service organization that takes enormous pride in its professionalism and service to the community.
The department manages the service with only five career firefighters, along with the chief and deputy chief, but in order to respond to the more than 700 emergency calls it receives annually, the department relies on a cadre of about 35 volunteers.
We spoke to one long-time volunteer to get a sense of what’s involved in providing that service.
Jason Dixon is a father of four with a career in graphic design in Victoria, but he is also a firefighter.
“I’ve been with Sooke Fire for 12 years today,” said Dixon when we caught up with him at the weekly training night at the fire hall.
“Before that, I was with the Malahat department for almost seven years, so I guess I’ve been at this for a long time.”
in fact, Dixon was given a commendation by the Governor General in 2001 and, in 2015, was awarded Sooke’s firefighter of the year award.
The work has required Dixon to give up at least 100 hours a year in training (that’s the minimum). In reality, the job requires a lot more.
“In February I have a 40-hour course that will happen over two weekends and then an exam on Monday, so I’ll have to miss a day of work, but that’s okay. My employer knows what I do and they’re alright with it,” explained Dixon.
But it’s the call-outs that truly test the mettle of fire-fighting volunteers.
“I respond to about 130 to 150 calls a year. Some are serious and have involved fatalities, sometimes multiple fatalities, and that can be tough, sometimes gruesome,” said Dixon.
“And, when you get a call and you have to do CPR on a child, that can be very hard on you emotionally.”
But Dixon said that he counters those “bad” calls with memories of the positive stories from his volunteer service.
“Years ago, when I first started, there was a bad accident it took us more than an hour to cut the woman from her car. It turned out she had broken her neck in four places but we got her out, and two years later that woman walked into the hall and gave us some cookies. To this day, I know she’s out there, walking around because we did our job right.”
Other calls are less traumatic.
“We had a puppy that got stuck in the mechanism inside a couch, here in Sooke a while back. It was pretty emotional for the family and we actually had to use the extraction equipment that we use on car crashes to get the puppy out. Unfortunately, it meant destroying the couch, but the puppy was fine,” Dixon recalled with a grin.
“I’ve once even rescued a cat from a tree,” he added with a laugh. “That’s pretty cliche and we don’t really do it anymore (cats tend to be able to get out of trees by themselves) but it was early in my volunteer career. I got all dressed in my gear and took off with a ladder and got it down.”
When asked to say why he has committed almost two decades to being a volunteer firefighter, Dixon paused for a long time before answering.
“I guess it’s a combination of things. There’s a level of pride knowing you are doing something that not everyone can do. There’s the fact that we help people and then there’s that real feeling of family with the people here,” said Dixon.
“And, of course, for some guys, it’s that you get to drive the big red truck.”