Volunteer firefighters from the Chilliwack area have bravely put themselves in harms way this summer, battling blazes locally and beyond.
Between June 1 and Aug. 31, crews from the Chilliwack River Valley Fire Department (CRVFD) responded to 68 local calls for service. Year-to-date, with the better part of four months still to go, CRVFD chief Mike Danyluk said they’ve had 172 calls, eclipsing the record-setting 135 from 2020.
The good news though is that while there have been a lot of calls, there haven’t been as many that Danyluk would describe as ‘serious.’
“With camping and tourism and stuff like that, there’s generally an increase in motor vehicle incidents and road side fires and stuff like that,” he said. “We thankfully saw a lot less of that this year.”
But that was offset by one of the worst wildfire seasons Danyluk has ever seen.
For five weeks, with BC Wildfire Service stretched thin, CRVFD maintained a three-person ‘localized initial attack team,’ staffing a truck at the fire hall 14 hours a day.
“As you can imagine, as volunteers we all have day jobs and not everyone can work remotely,” Danyluk said. “Several of us took time off to commit to this and we were essentially a full-time fire hall during that time.”
CRVFD crews were dispatched to some of B.C.’s worst wildfires. They spent 28 days battling the White Rock Lake fire. CFVRD firefighters helped at Monte Lake and Westwold and spent three weeks living at a camp in Vernon. They were also on the scene of the summer’s worst fire, one that started near Lytton June 30 and burned nearly the entire village to the ground.
CRVFD crews were deployed to Lytton the night the fire leveled the village. Joined by crews from the Popkum and Agassiz fire departments, they arrived around 1 a.m. and stayed for two weeks and 162 hours of service.
Working out of a full-service fire hall, CRVFD firefighters see a lot, but none of them had ever witnessed anything near that level of devastation.
Danyluk, who’s been the CRVFD chief for eight years, described the scene as a warzone.
“It was unlike anything I think a lot of fire departments have experienced, just piles of ash and burned-out buildings,” he said.
Firefighters aren’t robots. They hurt inside when they see suffering and Danyluk said they took a long time to ‘defuse’ when they got home from Lytton.
“We took a lot of time to talk and share as a group,” he explained. “We’ve always lived by the rule that if one of our members is hurting, we’re all hurting. So we did a lot of peer counselling and gave each other the opportunity to get stuff off our chest.”
There are many reasons the CRVRD’s 22 volunteer firefighters do what they do, but topping the list is a simple desire to help. Calls can come at any time, day or night, 365 days a year, and these volunteers put their lives on hold to answer the bell.
“Time is our most valuable asset, and for volunteers, I think it is incredible the dedication that our members and members from so many fire departments across the province commit to what we do,” Danyluk said. “We are neighbors helping our neighbors, and we do it to serve. It’s definitely not for the money when you’re a volunteer. It’s the satisfaction you get from helping people.”
In the case of Lytton, Danyluk said there was another motivator.
“Our department is highly trained and highly respected as one of the best equipped wildfire departments in the region,” Danyluk said. “We train for hours and hours and hours to do what we do. As firefighters we always want to help, and getting to be part of something larger scale like this, this is what we’ve trained for our whole lives. To be part of that bigger picture is what all of us want to do.
“You go into these places and residents give you hugs. They’re so happy you’re there to help them because they’ve literally lost it all. Having the ability to help when someone needs it is pretty awesome.”
– CRVFD is recruiting volunteer firefighters until Sept. 20. Get more info at fvrd.ca/EN/main/services/fire-protection/Volunteer-ff.html