The Tofino Volunteer Fire Brigade’s unwavering commitment to their community has earned them the distinction of being the first organization ever to receive Tofino’s Volunteer Recognition Award as a group.
“We know that each firefighter accepts a huge responsibility on behalf of the community and sacrifices a lot of personal time and extensive efforts in order to be trained and to provide this service and that the spouses and families of the firefighters are also a really, really, important part of that support network,” said Tofino mayor Josie Osborne as she announced the award.
“I want the fire department to know on behalf of mayor and council that we understand this is a huge commitment and that this kind of commitment cannot be taken lightly…The hallmark of a healthy community is one in which people feel safe and the fire department is a huge part of making Tofino feel safe.”
Fire Chief Brent Baker told the Westerly News the award meant a lot.
“To have the community support you, say ‘Thank you,’ and recognize you, just really means an awful lot,” he said. “The fire department absolutely loves Tofino and all the support that it receives from the community.”
He added though, that while the brigade receives all kinds of gratitude during emergency situations, it’s tough for residents to fully appreciate how much training and energy goes into being prepared to handle an emergency 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Many of us never get a full night’s sleep because you’re always expecting that pager’s going to go off so you’re generally always in a state of readiness…We’re here to deal with emergencies and you can never account for when those are going to happen,” he said. “You are making daily sacrifices as to how you spend your free time and how you spend your time with your family so that you can be available to meet those needs of the community. That’s probably the biggest contribution that people make, being prepared to drop everything at a given moment and respond.”
The department’s roster is currently at 26 active members, following a 2018 recruitment drive that brought in seven new firefighters. It was the first time the department has recruited in roughly three years because the department does not see much turnover, according to Baker.
“Working collectively as a team to accomplish very specific goals with other passionate people is a huge part of what keeps people here,” he said.
“We are a team and in many ways feel like a great big family. When one of us has a success we all share in that success and when one of us struggles we all struggle. So we work really hard together on all levels, personal, professional and as firefighters and that’s something that in a remote community like this, that can be a massive pull to get people to join, but really keeps you engaged.”
The department responded to 236 calls in 2017 and 128 calls in 2018 so far. Along with fires, those calls also include medical emergencies.
“Anything that’s immediately dangerous to life and health, those are the calls that we respond to,” Baker said. “We don’t get dispatched for a broken arm or things like that. It’s just the most serious, where immediate attention is required or possibly more hands than what the ambulance service is able to accommodate.”