Members of the Victoria Fire Department Honour Guard lined the hall on Tuesday morning in a ceremony to commemorate the installation of a new memorial bell.
“The goal is to ring that bell as few times as possible,” said Fire Chief Paul Bruce. The bell is rung every time a firefighter dies in the line of duty.
Bells, Bruce explained, have had a long-held tradition in the firefighting realm; they call people to duty, they signify when they’ve returned and they act as a knell when someone’s time has ended.
Before the new bell was installed the Victoria Fire Department relied on a bell attached to an older ceremonial fire truck for ceremonies. For years, the department was keeping an eye out for a bell that would work well as a standalone ceremonial bell. The opportunity came when the department upgraded its fleet with a new ladder truck bought from the United States which had a chrome bell attached to it.
“It was always a desire for the honour guard to have its own bell but money being tight, things being tight… it never came to fruition,” said Platoon Capt. Oscar Pohl. “On the front of that [American] apparatus was a bell, and it was all of sudden like the dream started to take form.”
American bells typically have an eagle on top, so a more traditional beaver was placed on the bell when it came to its Canadian home.
The Victoria Fire Department held a ceremony for its new memorial bell. Each ring signifies the loss of a fire fighter who died in the line of duty, which includes five people in the department’s 161-year history. @VictoriaFire730 @VictoriaNews #yyj pic.twitter.com/ovdcJx4LHH
— Nicole Crescenzi (@NicoleCrescenzi) December 17, 2019
Retired fire chief Michael Heppell constructed the base of the bell out of scraps of wood he’d gathered while restoring some of the antique trucks.
Alongside the bell the Victoria Fire Department unveiled a new commemorative plaque with the names of fallen firefighters. In the Department’s 161-year history five members have died: Lt. Joseph Lund, Firefighter Fred Medley, Capt. J.C. Hucky, Firefighter Len Harper and Fire Chief Richard Couch.
Chief Couch was the most recent addition to the list, and the first to be recognized in a line of duty death years after he retired. Couch retired in 2006 and died in 2018.
“My husband is probably the first one on that plaque to be recognized for a line of duty death caused by the toxins he would have been exposed to, because he died of a very aggressive kind of cancer traced to being a firefighter,” said the former chief’s widow Joanne Couch. “I think for the fire department this bell is something that they’ve been working towards having and it’s very important for them to have this as part of their honour guard and they services they provide.”
The bell will also be brought forward at the annual BC Fallen Fire Fighter’s Memorial service, which recognizes all firefighters in the province who died in the line of duty that year.