A few years prior to the start of the First World War, Sooke had a Sooke Harbour Fire Department. The equipment was kept in Mr. Mugford’s shed, and consisted of a hose reel mounted on two wooden wheels and drawn by four men with ropes and two men at the rear holding a rope to act as a brake. The hose reel and a cup presented to the department by the Canadian Pipe Company is still present in the fire hall. Charter’s Mill was once saved by the fireman using this hose reel when a brush fire was sweeping down towards the mill.
After the 1914-1918 War there was no organized fire protection until the start of the Second World War when the Civil Protection Committee was formed. The Air Raid Protection supplied firefighting equipment and the committee bought a second-hand Hudson touring car which the Cains Brothers rebuilt as a fire truck. This was kept in Mr. A. F. Brownsey’s garage.
At the end of the war, the ARP turned over the fire fighting equipment to the newly formed Sooke Volunteer Fire Department. A firehall was built next to Mr. Brownsey’s store, (approximately where the Chevron Station is today) with the money and materials being kindly donated by Mr. Mainwaring of the Civil Defence and Mr. Bing, manager of the Sooke Harbour Fishing and Packing Company, each of whom contributed $250. The building was erected by volunteer labour.
In 1952, the Sooke Volunteer Fire Department became the Sooke Fire Protection District and hydrants and standpipes were installed. The SFPD acquired an International fire truck in 1954 which served until 1970. In 1957, land was acquired for a new firehall in what is now the vacant lot across from Evergreen Centre.
New equipment was added over the next 10 years and in 1970 the Sooke Fire Department accepted delivery of an identical pair of Ford 625 Thibault pumpers. The officers and trustees drove them to Sooke from Quebec.
Always volunteer run, the department hired its first paid employee in 1977. Lorne A. Fisk became Fire Chief. He upgraded the radio and alarm system from the large siren to a pager system. In 1978 portable radios came in the scene.
In the year 1979, the Sooke Fireman’s Association purchased a rescue truck with money taken in from donations given by local residents along with organizations such as the Sooke Lions Club, Sooke Legion, Pensioners and the Victoria Cosmopolitan Club. Hydraulic rescue tools “The Jaws of Life” were also purchased for use on the truck. In keeping the rescue involvement a part of it’s own in the department, a society was formed to allow the public to be involved if they so wished.
In March 1980 the election of officers was eliminated and members are now given these positions after serving stipulated years of service as well as completing an intensive training program. Members apply for positions and are appointment by the fire chief with input from existing officers.
The early 1980’s saw the first expansion of the Sooke Fire Protection District coverage area. Residents of North Sooke requested fire protection for their area. In 1984 a site on Goodridge Road was purchased from BC Hydro for the establishment of a second fire station. The building completed in 1985 serves the area east of the Sooke River Bridge.
A refurbished King Seagrave pumper truck was purchased to serve this area. The existing tanker truck was also placed here as a large portion of this response district does not have fire hydrants. 1985 also saw the addition of a second paid firefighter to the ranks. Gary Jones was hired to look after the maintenance of the apparatus, equipment and buildings. After his retirement, Dennis Smith took over the duties until he left the department in 1998.
Also in 1985, tenders were sent out for a new pumper truck for Station 1. A 1985 Mack truck equipped with a 1,250 gallon per minute pump and a 1,000-gallon water tank was purchased.
With continued growth and development in the community and the fire department, it was evident the existing Fire Station #1 was getting too small. Plans were formulated to build a larger building to better serve the Fire Protection District. After many attempts at different sites and a failed referendum to build a new station on Grant Road, a new building was finally approved on a site at the end of the John Phillips Memorial Golf Course on Otter Point Road.
With careful planning and negotiating the building was enlarged to accommodate the offices of the Capital Regional District staff. With the lease money obtained from the CRD for the floor space, the fire station could be built with no tax increase to the residents. With encouragement from the local business community, overwhelming support was received in the next referendum and the building was approved. Jim Merrill was contracted to design the structure to fit in with the local area. Construction began in 1996 and the firefighters moved into their new and current home in November of 1997.
A special grand opening party was held with Fire Chief Ric Raynor cutting the ribbon. Over 500 people attended the Grand Opening Ball. With over 15,000 square feet of space for the fire department, there is room to grow for many years.
Additional apparatus was added over the years. A 1993 4-wheel drive Suburban as the fire chief’s command vehicle, a new 4-wheel drive pickup in 2001, a used ladder truck for $5,000, in 1988. This was acquired upon recommendation from the Fire Underwriters to have a vehicle with an elevated stream device. The vehicle was only in service for just under three years and was sold at auction.
In 1998, a used heavy rescue truck was purchased and transported from its old home in New Jersey to Sooke by flat bed truck. This truck replaced the old Chevrolet one-ton rescue truck. In 2003, the rescue box was removed from the old Mack chassis and placed on a brand new Freightliner chassis. In 1999 another new pumper was purchased, replacing the old 1969 Thibault designated Engine 201.
Big changes occurred in the winter of 1999 when the District of Sooke was incorporated as a municipality. All of the assets of the old Sooke Fire Protection District were turned over to the new municipality. Steve Sorensen, at that time the only full time member of the fire department, became employee #1 in the new District of Sooke.
Other apparatus continued to be purchased to replace old and worn out apparatus. 2001 saw the acquisition of a new Compressed Air Foam truck to handle the increasing danger of fires in the urban interface area.
Another 1250 Freightliner pumper was purchased in 2003 replacing the old Ford, King-Seagrave pumper and is designated Engine 205. The old unit was sold to the Firefighters Association for $1 to be used as a parade vehicle.
In 2004 another 4-wheel drive pickup truck was purchased for use by the career staff during the day and the duty officer at night. Full-time staff had now grown to three members with the hiring of Matt Barney as Training Officer.
The year 2006, Requests For Proposals were sent out for a new combination aerial ladder truck and pumper unit to replace the aging Engine 204. The contract was awarded to Rosenbauer Fire Apparatus and is to date the most expensive fire truck purchased by the Sooke Fire Department. Money was saved by purchasing a demonstrator truck for $605,000 before taxes. The truck was delivered in February, 2007.
Sooke Fire Rescue Service – 2006 – to Present
With the ever expanding roles of the fire department, the official name was changed to the Sooke Fire Rescue Service in 2007 to better reflect the services the firefighters provide to the community.
Rapid community growth began to occur in the region and Sooke for a time was the second fastest grow municipality in the province. Daytime staffing of the fire department became more and more of a challenge as volunteer firefighters were simply not available during the peak hours of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The career staff of the fire department was expanded by two more members. There were now four full time firefighters and a full time fire chief.
The firefighters work two at a time on a rotating four day on, four day off day shift pattern. The fire chief continues to work a Monday to Friday shift. This provides a minimum of two firefighters during the day, 365 days a year. In 2011, the four career firefighters elected to become part of the International Association of Firefighters Union.
New apparatus has replaced or been added to the fleet to keep pace with the increased duties and call volume. The 2001 pickup truck was replaced with a near new 2011 Hybrid pickup truck that was purchased as surplus from the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Another pickup truck was added in 2012, with the majority of the funding coming through a Federal JEPP grant.
With increasing medical first response calls and now having an on-duty night shift crew of two volunteers a small vehicle was needed to allow this crew to be able to respond from their homes. A used ambulance was purchased from the province and was painted to match existing fire department colours. The final addition to the fleet was in 2011 with the arrival of a used 2006 Emergency-One Rescue Pumper to replace the now worn out 1985 Mack Pumper. This well-designed truck is the department’s main emergency vehicle. Equipped with a large capacity pump, compressed air foam system, loads of equipment space and carrying the Jaws of Life, this unit can be found on most major calls.
A new mustering station:
A new facility was added in 2013 to cover the large Sunriver area of Sooke. Faced with longer response times and with several volunteer firefighters living in this area, a small fire department “Muster Station” was put into service in the parking lot of the Sunriver Sales Centre. The 2008 Chevrolet one-ton pickup has been moved here and crews are using the old Fire Safety House as a small meeting area as well as storage for their protective clothing. This facility has already proved itself on several occasions by providing quicker response to residents in the area as well as supplementing crews at major incidents throughout Sooke.
Fire Department Support Services:
Faced with growing public requests for fire and life safety training, a new division was added to the fire department in 2000. Named the Support Services Group, these volunteer members do not attend fire or rescue calls but assist at various events. This could be a school field trip to the fire hall, a training session on use of a fire extinguisher, a fire safety talk for a seniors’ group or operating a bounce house at Canada Day. The role of support services continues to grow with members now trained in first aid, traffic control, dispatch procedures and other tasks that can assist the firefighters.
There is even a volunteer Chaplain and a psychologist in the department to assist members in dealing with the stress of responding to all types of emergency calls and dangerous situations.
A piece of history returns to Sooke:
It was September 2011 when Fire Chief Steven Sorensen received a phone call from the CAO of Barriere, B.C.
The message: “Would you like your old fire truck back?” It seems that back in January 1970, after the Sooke Volunteer Fire Department had accepted delivery of two new fire trucks, the old 1942 International Bickle truck was sold to the Barriere Volunteer Fire Department for a sum of $500. It went with a “gentlemen’s agreement” that when Barriere decided they no longer wanted the truck, Sooke would have first option of taking it back.
Well, 41 years later that agreement was honoured and now a small but dedicated group of current and retired firefighters are working diligently to restore the truck to better than new condition.
This group is approximately two-thirds of the way through a two- year project and have completely and painstakingly dismantled the truck down to the frame and are now in the process of restoring the vehicle.
This was Sooke’s first real purpose built fire truck and will have many years of public display and parades ahead in its new life.
If you would like to help support the restoration project, you can purchase a share in the truck for a minmum of $20 or buy a FD Challenge Coin for only $10. Corporate donations are always accepted. The restoration committee would like to thank the major sponsors to date including the Sooke Firefighters Assocation, the District of Sooke, the Sooke Rotary Club and Wenstob Timber.
compiled by Steven Sorensen
Having been a member of the Sooke Fire Rescue Service for over 30 years now, I have witnessed many changes and improvements in firefighting techniques.
One thing that hasn’t changed however, is the commitment, passion and dedication that the firefighters put forth everyday. This was certainly demonstrated during the recent fire at the Evergreen Mall.
As Fire Chief, I was extremely proud to watch the firefighters and other emergency responders from Sooke and surrounding areas work so cohesively to deal with this major event.
I am sure 100 years ago, the original founders of the Sooke Harbour Fire Department never imagined where we would be today. One can only wonder what the next 100 years will look like.
Steven Sorensen – Fire Chief – Sooke Fire Rescue Service
Sooke Fire Rescue Service boasts a dedicated crew of volunteers and paid staff who answer fire and medically-related calls at any time day or night.
Volunteers are the life-blood of the department which is responsible for a 64-square km area which includes residential, industrial and commercial buildings, and a large forested area.
These highly-trained firefighters spend thousands of hours each year advancing their training, with many members specializing in a variety of fields including automobile rescues, rope rescues and much more. Our members are first responders and work in conjunction with the BC Ambulance Service. About half the SFRS’s annual call volume can be attributed to medical assistance calls.
The department also strives to prevent fire and other life safety accidents through its public education and fire prevention initiatives. Taking an active role in the community, volunteers continue to educate local residents on the dangers of fire and other hazards, with the aim of eliminating preventable accidents.
Members of the Sooke Fire Rescue Service are very proud of their fire department and are pleased to be celebrating the first 100 years of service to the community.
The current members:
Deputy Fire Chief
Assistant Fire Chief