Brady Yu, a paramedic with the BC Ambulance Service, receives an award from Skidegate Chief Councillor Billy Yovanovich and Queen Charlotte Mayor Greg Martin at the Honouring Our First Responders dinner. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)

“Your neighbour has your back”

First responders from Q.C., Skidegate honoured at community dinner

Standing ovations and Haida songs rang out for firefighters, police and paramedics at the Honouring Our First Responders dinner on Oct. 5.

Nearly 400 people from Skidegate and Queen Charlotte filled the Q.C. Community Hall for the potluck dinner, which was hosted by the Village of Queen Charlotte to honour all those who responded to the house fire and explosion that rattled the Spruce Point neighbourhood on Aug. 7.

“We don’t do this work alone,” said Brady Yu, a paramedic with the BC Ambulance Service, speaking to the crowd shortly before his team and others received the Order of Queen Charlotte and handmade thank you / haawa cards from students at Sk’aadgaa Naay Elementary.

Echoing that feeling was Sergeant Terry Gillespie of the Queen Charlotte RCMP.

“It really felt like the community had our backs, and had the backs of their fire departments.”

Kyle Marshall, fire chief for the Skidegate Fire Department, said it’s clear the two fire departments work well together, and he looks forward to a future “with a few less exciting incidents.”

Larry Duke, fire chief for Queen Charlotte, noted that over 80 per cent of firefighters in Canada are volunteers, that there is room at both departments for new recruits.

“Being on a volunteer fire department is much more than spraying water out of the end of a hose,” said Duke, adding that joining a front-line crew isn’t the only way to volunteer.

“It’s a place where someone can make a difference in someone’s life at a desperate time.”

Queen Charlotte Mayor Greg Martin said it was a miracle that no one was killed or seriously injured during the Aug. 7 fire.

When volunteer firefighters from Queen Charlotte and Skidegate arrived to tackle what started as a roof fire at 622 Seventh Street, they had no idea it might set off explosions strong enough to destroy the house and knock people to the ground.

Some people did suffer minor injuries, including hearing loss and concussions.

But with a joint effort that lasted over 24 hours, firefighters managed to contain the blaze and the several spot fires that started when flaming debris landed on nearby roofs and dried-out lawns.

The RCMP recovered live explosives from the area, and a detailed forensic investigation is still ongoing with any criminal charges likely several months away.

“Two of our families have been displaced by the fire,” said Mayor Martin. Two local businesses — Haida Gwaii Accounting & Income Tax and the Haida Gwaii Revive Therapeutic Centre — have also been disrupted, and it remains unclear when or if they will recover all of their related losses.

Billy Yovanovich, chief councillor for Skidegate, said the Aug. 7 fire showed just how important the strong working relationship is between the two communities.

Before calling on the crowd to thank all the first responders for their bravery, Yovanovich invited the new Queen Charlotte council to visit with their colleagues in Skidegate after the Oct. 20 to keep up the neighbourly ties.

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Larry Duke, fire chief for the Queen Charlotte fire department, speaks at the Honouring Our First Responders dinner. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)

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