On June 12, 1946, Colwood Fire Rescue was officially formed, forever changing the lives of residents for the better.
Seventy-five years later, much has changed with the department, but its mission remains the same – protecting the people of Colwood.
”We are the oldest fire department on the West Shore,” said acting fire Chief Greg Chow. “It’s unbelievable just to recognize the fact we have been in existence for 75 years … today looking back, we definitely have a department to be proud of.”
Chow said the department was not able to properly celebrate the milestone over the summer as the pandemic was still raging, and their attention was focused on honouring fire Chief John Cassidy, who died of a heart attack that month. But now, as 2021 winds down, Chow was able to take Black Press through the department’s history with the help of their museum.
“We started in 1939 as an air-raid protection district, and then we moved into the Colwood Fire Prevention District in 1946,” said Chow, standing among the department’s historical equipment.
Armed initially with borrowed fire hoses and pump trailers from the federal government, the fledgling organization made its first vehicle purchase in 1942 – an open-top truck bought from a local vegetable gardener.
Chow said throughout the years, the department’s members would include plenty of well-known Colwood families, including the Ridleys, Emerys, and his own family, which has had members volunteer with the department since 1952.
“Becoming a firefighter is a life-long dream for some people,” said Chow. “Some people like to use this as a stepping stone for their careers; others just want to serve their community.”
The years would also feature several significant fires for the department to fight, including one which would destroy the Highway Sawmill in 1952, but neighbouring wood buildings were saved thanks to the department’s efforts. On April 1, 1961, the first of several major fires at Colwood Plaza would ignite. Again, the department’s efforts would succeed in saving neighbouring buildings.
As Colwood grew and became busier, so too would its firefighters. Chow said when he first joined the department in 1982, they received around 100 calls per year. Today, they average between 600 and 700 calls annually.
“It’s not just fires, but medical responses, car accidents, confined space rescues, high angle rescues, that sort of thing too.” Chow said the biggest changes the department has seen over the years, and the one best showcased in the museum, is the changes in their equipment. In the early days, volunteers would fight fires in nothing more than a thick coat, a basic helmet and rubber boots. Their equipment was nothing more than some trucks with basic pumps, hoses and hand tools.
Over the years, a firefighter’s clothing would rapidly evolve to provide far more protection, while their equipment would become much larger, more complex, more capable and better matched to the needs of the growing community.
Today, change continues to happen. Chow said the department is set to choose a new permanent chief in 2022; a second fire station is being considered to improve response times as the city grows; and the department may also move away from its volunteer model to a more full-time staff structure to better fit with demand.