It’s always tough to choose the defining aspect of a year gone by and for the Sooke Fire Rescue Department that choice is made all the more difficult by the dynamic nature of the Department.
Certainly one of the happenings that attracted a lot of attention was the move from a volunteer model to a paid-on-call approach for non-career firefighters.
That system was implemented in July of this year and allowed the Department to take a far more aggressive approach to recruitment. It was a concept that Chief Kenn Mount had been advocating for some five years and Mount said that it was long overdue.
As time has passed, and a new crop of recruits have made their way to the Department, it would appear that the strategy may be bearing fruit.
“It really allowed us to increase the pool of candidates coming forward,” Mount said.
“What’s really exciting is that in this latest pool of seven recruits, three of them are women. We’ve been aware of the imbalance in that regard and we’re thrilled to have these women joining our ranks.”
In fact, this year’s recruit of the year is Heather Lane.
She’s what Mount described as a “power mom”, whose three children love the fact that mom has become a firefighter.
“When we announced her name as recruit of the year in front of the premier, you should have seen the looks of pride on her children’s faces,” Mount said.
The recruitment strategy was augmented, said Mount, by the efforts of Ben Temple, who expanded the use of social media and a stakeholder’s newsletter to create a larger pool of recruit candidates.
Other new firefighters have brought their own skill sets to make the department increasingly more effective.
We brought on Kyle Sutherland about six months ago. He brought a strong skill set from the military where he’d been an instructor for boarding techniques in the navy,” Mount said.
“Kyle came to us with this incredible sense of commitment and professionalism. He pushes us all to be a little bit better all the time.”
Other challenges came last year as B.C.’s critical response model was implemented.
“It was a patient centred model, but we tracked it and the wait times did go up. We saw 50 fewer calls as a result of that model where we didn’t get called to the less severe situations,” Mount said.
“We were still the first on the scene for 184 calls and I’ll be monitoring ambulance wait times. Some of those waits have been as long as 40 minutes.”
Mount added that Highway 14 continues to be the cause of many calls.
“The highway never fails to produce calls and last year we were out to more than 70 incidents, some of which required us to use the jaws of life to get people out of their vehicles.”
These days Mount is also working to establish a master plan for Fire Rescue in the community.
“We need a long term staffing plan with an emphasis on staff retention. We also want to focus on fire prevention initiatives and, at the same time, we have to be aware of grant opportunities and make sure we don’t miss out on funding that is available form any one of a number of sources.”
Mount is confident, though, that Sooke’s Fire Rescue is heading the right direction.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve built here, and I know it will just keep getting better,” Mount said.