Fallen firefighters remembered with Victoria memorial

New bronze memorial unveiled at legislature after mass march Wednesday

Bev Jennings Bazin

There are few professions more dangerous than firefighting, and even fewer that create a universal bond transcending cities, provinces and international borders.

Victoria Fire Department Lt. Gary Birtwhistle recalls that many of his colleagues flew to Manhattan in the wake of 9/11 to offer support to the hundreds of families attending funerals.

“It’s very moving, especially for us, because you obviously relate it to your brothers and sisters that you work with,” said Birtwhistle, who also serves as secretary-treasurer of the B.C. Fire Fighters Union local 730.

On Wednesday, more than 500 firefighters from across B.C. marched proudly and sombrely down Belleville and Government streets for their biennial commemoration of those lost in the line of duty.

Premier Christy Clark and the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association then unveiled a bronze fallen firefighter statue that will permanently stand on the rear legislature grounds.

A national firefighters memorial was created last year in Ottawa at the site of that city’s great fire of 1900, but B.C. had no formal recognition of the sacrifices made by the province’s firefighters until now.

B.C. artist Dean Lauze was commissioned by the provincial government to create the work.

“It’s important for both paid and unpaid firefighters,” said Darren Blackwell, local 730 president. “It’s honouring our fallen brothers and sisters.”

While more than 1,000 on-duty deaths have been documented in Canada over the past 160 years, Victoria hasn’t suffered a fatality since 1947, when Leonard Harper fell from a ladder during a training exercise at the Yates Street fire hall. There have been four VFD deaths since its inception in 1858.

Birtwhistle said firefighters have fought hard recently to gain recognition for particular cancer-related deaths due to fire exposure.

“If we do get certain types of cancers, it is presumed to be part of our occupation,” he said. “It means a lot to us that it was presumed to be in the line of duty. I’d say we still get one guy a month passing away from cancer.”

dpalmer@vicnews.com

Just Posted

Land sale could threaten Shirley’s water supply: officials

Sale will allow for the subdivision and development of forestry lands

View Royal kids cruise their complex to raise food, toys for Goldstream Food Bank

Four kids gather more than 60 bags of non-perishable food items and toys collected

Spandads group collects, donates more than 100 used bikes

Oak Bay Bikes’ advent calendar donations go to fixing the used bikes

Colwood tops Grumpy Taxpayer$ 2019 Candy Cane Awards

Yearly awards for improved governance go to Colwood, Oak Bay, Victoria

Chilliwack family’s therapy dog injured in hit and run

Miniature pit bull Fifty’s owner is a single mother facing close to $10,000 in vet bills

Cougar destroyed in Penticton area after mauling dog, killing cat

This is the first reported incident with a cougar this year in the Penticton area

Feds not enforcing standards on Hungarian duck imports, B.C. farmer says

‘You have no way of knowing what’s in the bag’

No reports yet of Canadians affected by New Zealand volcano eruption, feds say

Missing and injured included tourists from the U.S., China, Australia, Britain and Malaysia

Vancouver Island blues musician’s mother’s home burglarized and ransacked

David Gogo’s 71-year-old mother has jewelry and artwork stolen in break-in

Dance cancelled after Alberta teacher’s climate lesson prompts online threats

School district near Red Deer cancelled annual family dance due to Facebook comments

In surprise move, defence won’t call witnesses for accused in Abbotsford school killing

‘Change of instructions’ results in defence closing case without calling evidence

B.C. VIEWS: An engine that hums right along

First Nations are leading a new surge of investment in B.C.

Most Read