Local fire departments rise to the challenges of COVID-19

Fire Prevention Week has looked a bit different this year. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, both Ladysmith Fire Rescue, (LFR) and North Oyster Volunteer Fire Department, (NOVFD) have come up with creative ways to get the word out about fire prevention.

NOVFD captain, Kris Hill created a video that takes the public on a virtual tour of the North Oyster fire hall. LFR has taken to social media to share their fire safety message.

Normally, both fire departments do school visits, and invite youth to visit the firehall. With COVID-19, few of the regular activities can occur.

“We’ve had to be pretty selective about the events we’re able to participate in,” LFR chief Chris Geiger said. “We’ve had to modify things and be more careful with our community involvement.”

Fire Prevention Week hasn’t been the only thing that’s changed for LFR and NOVFD this year.

Back in March, both LFR and NOVFD had to cancel in-person fire practices. Both fire halls hold weekly practices on Tuesday nights, and they had to shift to online.

“Everything this year was cancelled,” NOVFD fire chief, Florian Schulz said. “It certainly made training quite difficult.”

Around mid-May, both firehalls returned to in-person training. Fortunately, during the same period that the fire halls could not train in person, calls for service dropped dramatically.

Due to unknowns around COVID-19 early on in the pandemic, fire departments were no longer dispatched to medical aid calls. Schulz said that medical aid calls make up around 45 percent of service calls for NOVFD. For LFR, the early days of the pandemic saw less people commuting on the highway through Ladysmith, which reduced their calls significantly.As the summer set in, both departments got busier.

NOVFD and LFR have responded to a series of major service calls – most of which have been in NOVFD’s protection area. Earlier in the year, the CVRD formalized a mutual aid agreement between regional fire departments that enables departments to ask for resources and assistance more easily.

Crews from both responded to bush fires on Takala Road, and in the Woodley Range Ecological Reserve. They were also the first responders for the fatal hit-and-run in Oyster Bay, a roll-over accident on Yellow Point Road, and the Schnitzer Steel scrapyard fire.

“That was a tough couple of weeks,” Geiger said. “Both North Oyster, and Ladysmith fire fighters – as well as the ambulance and RCMP who responded – were extremely professional. They way everybody worked together and did what they could was inspiring.”

Both LFR and NOVFD have expressed thanks to the community for all the support they have received throughout the pandemic.

“The community as a whole really recognized that the department needed support,” Geiger said. “We had people knocking on the door of the fire hall dropping off water bottles, sandwiches, and treats. That was just our hall.”

“It really boosts our moral knowing that the community we serve appreciates what we do,” Schulz said. “We’re all doing this to help our community, and when the community recognizes that there are people who are volunteering their time to help out, it means a lot to us.”

North Oyster Volunteer Fire Department 2020 (Cole Schisler photo)
North Oyster Volunteer Fire Department 2020 (Cole Schisler photo)

Ladysmith Fire Rescue 2020 (Town of Ladysmith photo)

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