While most of us enjoyed a quiet Christmas break Ladysmith Fire/Rescue kept busy with a variety of calls stemming from winter driving conditions to assisting other departments in the area, as well as covering for the ambulance service.
Fire Chief Chris Geiger said last year was busier for the department than previous years.
“I have 243 calls on my report but the dispatch centre has us down for 250. That means I have a bit more work to find out what the other seven could have been,” he said.
Geiger, who joined the local paid on-call department in 2007, has found it quite an interesting journey and one that had led to a change in professions and way of life. “I was living across the street from a couple of department members,” Geiger said. “And they talked me into applying to join — that was 15 years ago.”
Geiger joined the Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, as a civilian employee of the Department of National Defense four years ago. Gaining that experience on a full-time force with fairly new equipment and procedures has given Geiger a broader background as an active firefighter. Two years ago, Geiger was elected as chief of Ladysmith Fire/Rescue.
“My job experience as a firefighter in Esquimalt has given me a lot more knowledge and my schedule of working four days on and four off gives me a lot more time to do the part-time job as chief for Ladysmith,” he said.
Geiger said one of his goals is to increase the 25-member department to 30–35. At the present time, it’s difficult to have a full complement on all calls, especially during the working hours Monday to Friday so a few extra members would benefit the response times. “We have never not been able to make a call with adequate force but we really want to make sure we can keep that record going,” said Geiger. The locals are planning on holding an annual recruiting drive every October but will take applications at any time.
The department responds to a variety of calls, with medical aid calls accounting for 23 per cent of the 2021 callouts and motor vehicle incidents (MVI) second at 21 per cent. Medical aid calls are usually to assist the ambulance service, although the department can be called out for cardiac arrests or if there are anticipated delays in ambulance arrivals. The calls for MVI assistance are usually for scene control. The members are also trained to use extrication equipment to remove victims from wrecks or to allow ambulance attendants to access trapped individuals.
According to the dispatch centre, located in Campbell River, member departments handled over 25,000 calls in 2021 with the busiest times of the day being between four and six in the afternoon and the busiest days for emergency calls being Fridays.
For the local department, this past Boxing Day was the busiest day of the year. “In a three-hour period we covered six motor vehicles [incidents],” Geiger said. “All of them were due to road conditions and for December we had 14 MVI calls in total. October we had none so it’s never really the same.”
Keeping the members of the department prepared takes a lot of training and procedures are continually changing, said Geiger. The provincial Fire Commissioners Office puts out a “playbook” that dictates what each individual is to know and to be able to do. “This is for their own safety as well the safety of the public and victims,” Geiger said.
Every Sunday the duty crew of the week makes sure all the equipment and gear is tested, fired up and running properly ready for any immediate call-outs. In 2021 the Ladysmith force received a grant to assist in training for interface fires. The local department does not do the actual forest fire fighting — they are prepared to work on structures that are in close proximity to the impending fires. The Ladysmith Department has four large pieces of rolling fire equipment, as well as the emergency rescue truck, a utility truck that can pump 250 gallons of water and the command vehicle.