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Sooke Fire Rescue ready for growth

More firefighters on the way, says chief
Sooke Fire Rescue Chief Ted Ruiter reflects on the year gone by and the one ahead. (File - Sooke News Mirror)

Sooke Fire Rescue Chief Ted Ruiter took on a truck load of topics during a look back and a look ahead, including how to address the spiraling rise in population.

“One of the challenges is keeping up with rapid growth and keeping up with service that aligns to that,” Ruiter said in an interview.

Recruitment and retention are key components in that regard, as is the case with any composite department, he noted.

Ruiter said the good news for Sooke is that the move to 24-hour service around the first quarter of 2023 means there are now staff in the hall 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“With the blessing of council, we were able to bring in more career firefighters to achieve 24-7,” Ruiter said. “The benefit of that is it helps us achieve better response times, and we’ve seen that in some of the calls we’ve gone to. Continuing to add staff every year for the next four years puts us in a much better position. It sets us up for success while providing a better level of service to the ratepayer as time goes by, with the continuing support of council.”

Call volumes were up primarily due to medical calls, with a total of 1,o60 in the year to date to Dec. 11.

That includes 752 medical calls, 55 fire types such as brush, structure, and vehicle, and 69 rescues.

The most significant event in 2023 was the fire on May 2 at a construction site on Steeple Chase that destroyed four structures.

“That was the biggest fire in quite a few years,” Ruiter said.

The addition of Deputy Fire Chief Wayne Kennedy in March was noteworthy, Ruiter added.

“He brings great experience and education from his background in a larger centre,” he said regarding Kennedy, who served in North Vancouver in a variety of firefighting positions for 26 years. “Wayne offers a lot.”

There are plans to bring in an emergency program manager later in the year, Ruiter said.

“Environmental emergencies are always a concern,” he said. “Having someone in that chair allows us to manage larger events not specific to firefighting, for example, atmospheric rivers, tsunamis and earthquakes.”

Sooke was fortunate to not have been impacted directly this fire season, Ruiter noted.

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Looking ahead, Sooke Fire Rescue will fill the FireSmart co-ordinator position vacated by Ashlene Aktarian with someone that will continue to manage the FireSmart program while handling other roles, including fire investigations and inspections.

“Senior management will be working as well with that person to build public education and a fire prevention program,” Ruiter said.

He’s looking forward to working with the T’Sou-ke Nation on a fire service agreement as well, he noted.

Other tasks for 2024 include revisiting Sooke Fire Rescue’s fire protection service bylaw and working with all of its neighbouring fire department to review mutual aid agreements.

“We’ll also start collective bargaining with our local firefighters (union) in the new year,” Ruiter said.

A new record management system is being implemented in 2024, which will contain charts, graphs, numbers and data that will assist in managing all of the department’s’s needs.

“The software will allow all of the different divisions to work together from the same program,” he explained. “It’s a really good reference management tool.”

About the Author: Rick Stiebel

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