A small blond head peeks over the tall grass of the Tlell dunes. Her mother runs towards her with her infant brother dangling in his baby carrier, frantic. Tearful questions: “What were you thinking?! What were you doing?!”
The crying child answers. “I was (sob) looking for (sob) you (sob) Mummy…” As the relief of the reunion washes over them both, the sound of a siren washes over the land.
”What’s that?” The little blond head asks.
”That’s the fire truck. That’s for you.”
In that moment, a twinkle of curiosity replaced the fear in her eyes. Who doesn’t love a fire truck?
In one form or another, Tlell has had a volunteer fire service for many years. It’s a vital service we all rely on to save our homes, put out overly-enthusiastic smokehouses and smouldering beach fires, or to find lost children on the dunes. I visited our current volunteer force during their weekly practice at the Tlell Firehall to learn more.
As I walked in, the men and women were focused on an informative VHS tape that whirred in the front. Our narrator regarded his audience with an intense stare. I wasn’t sure if I was going to have nightmares or dreams about this moustached man, but really the stare seemed to betray a lack of editing skills common in informational videos of the 1980s. That said, it was very informative. I learned the importance of ventilation in fighting a fire, and the difference between vertical and horizontal ventilation. You can ask me questions about that later.
Although the properties of fire have remained constant since lightning first hit the Earth, it struck me that perhaps there were more current educational resources the volunteers could access. After the video finished rewinding, we headed down to the fire trucks to chat.
Fire chief Mike Richardson spoke about how the fire department is funded. The current building was built over 20 years ago through funding provided by Gwaii Trust. It has housed various trucks donated from other districts over the years. Back in the day, there was an old Austin that carried only 400 gallons of water, enough to barely fill the hoses, not to mention a lack of brakes that required some very timely placing of blocks under the tires after arriving on scene.
In 2005, we received our current truck from Ontario, again purchased through funds from Gwaii Trust. However, a few years ago the Trust started to require organizations provide matching funds, something the Tlell fire department doesn’t have. Their funding comes from residents in Tlell voluntarily paying $50 per household per year, a system that is hard to track. Further funding comes from parking donations at the Fall Fair, and monies raised through the infamous Rhinestone Dinners. That event generally pays for the insurance on the fire truck and rescue vehicle owned by the department.
And what a beauty she is! The rescue vehicle is a 1979 classic, with beautiful lines and a distinct Ghostbusters feel. I’m told the original owners did some work on her, so she’s got a lot of power under the hood… if she starts. Obviously this is a less than ideal quirk for a rescue vehicle, where timeliness is of the essence. Fortunately the fire truck is of a younger vintage and is certainly ready for action. All the volunteers need to do is get outfitted up and hit the road, but there’s a problem there too: the cost of gear.
Veronika Higlister is the newest recruit in the force. She follows in the footsteps of Dawn Geddie and Lucy Stefanyk who previously challenged the gender norms of firefighting. Unfortunately, lack of funds requires Veronika use Lucy’s old firefighting gear. Thankfully they are close to the same size, but you can imagine this isn’t perfect. A new kit for a new recruit can cost about $3,000 — funds the fire department simply doesn’t have.
So how to solve this funding issue? One possible solution is to have our department funded directly through our tax dollars collected by the regional district. This would provide consistent funding, some of which could be saved as matching funds for capital expenditures and more consistent education opportunities for volunteers. Discussion is ongoing, and Tlellians will get their opportunity to respond to the idea. This would replace the $50 per year and ensure that everyone pays their share in keeping us safe. Secure funding would also further the efforts to have a 911 service on island, allowing for increased shared coverage for the various community departments. If you don’t think this is important, take a moment to see if you know all the numbers of the various fire departments in each community. If I’m in Port Clements and spot a fire, who do I call? There are seven or eight different fire response numbers on island. If you can’t immediately list them all, we need 911.
If you’d like to volunteer for the Tlell Fire Department, contact Mike Richardson. If you’d like to send me a love poem, email me. My next column will be, with any luck, on assignment from the Dominican Republic. Don’t miss it!