Special to the Westerly
Fire prevention week is always a big deal in Tofino, but this time the 58-year-old Tofino Volunteer Fire Department has a brand spankin’ new $540,000 fire truck to boast about.
“New technology is always exciting,” said Tofino’s fire chief Brent Baker who explained the new truck is an eight-seater, as opposed to the current five-plus-a-driver setup.
“You can accomplish a lot more a lot faster.”
The shiny red pumper originally arrived back in March, but had to be sent out for repairs. Water was discovered in one of the electrical panels. After the problem was taken care of and storage space on the unit was modified slightly, the truck has now arrived back in Tofino.
One firefighter sounded giddy telling friends about the new Asphodel unit around a bonfire on a chilly fall night with the same enthusiasm generally reserved for a cool home stereo install or a new surfboard.
These kind of investments in community safety have kept the local department galvanized, despite the fact members aren’t paid when called upon to put themselves in the line of fire – literally.
“They don’t receive a single penny for what they do,” Baker said. “They do it because of a passion for their community.”
The department gets $15 per person, per service call—no matter how short or long the rescue, battle with the flames or false alarm—but that money is reinvested directly back into the fire hall.
Meanwhile, the challenges facing the department of this historically sleepy peninsula municipality have mounted.
Things are definitely getting a little more hectic around these parts, and local firefighters have to be prepared to rise to new challenges.
From 2014 to 2015 collisions in the Tofino, Ucluelet and Ahousaht region jumped from 75 in 2014 to 107 in 2015, according to police statistics, for one.
“What we’ve seen is a dramatic increase in medical calls,” Baker explained. “For instance last year we had 210 calls and 136 of those were ‘first responder’ medical calls.”
That’s up from 175 total calls in 2015 (about 100 first responder calls) and 160 total in 2014.
The local force has been working to increase firefighter knowledge of these sorties, which can range from someone who is found unconscious due to overconsumption of alcohol or heart attacks suffered by people of all ages.
This year the department invested in training, tapping eight of its rank and file to become instructors of relevant safety skills. Fortunately, unlike other Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland communities, the Tofino department has yet to have to respond to a fentanyl overdose. But, it’s something our local volunteers are wary of.
“So far we’ve been fortunate,” Baker said. “We’re prepared and fully trained for it.”
Of course, they’re also focused on giving back. They raised $1,000 for the hospice last year through a bike ride. The firefighters also provide food hampers to families through a local religious institution.
“This is what defines us as an organization,” Baker said. “We love our community.”
Head down to the Second Street hall on Tuesday evening for fire practice and you’ll see the passion in the eyes of the men and women ready to help you in your time of need. They listen intently to announcements from deputy chief Billy McGinnis before gearing up to run through some drills.
“It’s a great volunteer opportunity,” explained Emre Bosut, 34, who’s already been on the force more than five years; so long that he’s losing track. “It’s a good mix of practice and actual training programs.”
Laura Lunty, 33, echoed that sentiment, describing the sense of pride and belonging she gets from participating in the service.
“For me it’s about giving back to a community I really love,” she said. “And, at the same time, I’m challenging myself with skills I otherwise wouldn’t learn.”