Reports of several recent fires in the community led me to ask Gibsons Fire Chief Rob Michael about talking with volunteer firefighters attached to the Cliff Mahlman Fire Hall (at Frank West Hall). I was put in touch with the captain of our satellite hall, George Williams, and long-time volunteer Graham Webb. Thirteen volunteers who live in Elphinstone respond to this (#2) fire hall, including three recruits, one of whom is Graham’s daughter, Jamie Webb, who has been in training for about seven months. The fire hall was named in recognition of long-serving (1954-90) volunteer, Cliff Mahlman.
George and Graham shared generously of their time, speaking with me about the many aspects of this crucial job. George as training officer is one of four paid positions out of the Gibsons (#1) Fire Hall, but his job at the Mahlman Fire Hall is as volunteer captain. Training volunteer firefighters in all aspects of fire and rescue work grows ever more complex. They do a range of rescue work including responding to medical emergencies and car accidents, and dealing with natural gas leaks. Going into a burning building is the most dangerous of all and requires what is known as “interior” training. He estimates it takes close to three years for a volunteer to be fully trained, so the weekly training the volunteers go through is critical.
The Gibsons & District Fire Department covers Gibsons, Howe Sound and Elphinstone; there are mutual aid agreements with the other fire departments on the Coast. Volunteers have paid jobs, including shift work, but still mount a good response crew to the 200+ call-outs per year. Graham says it is a huge commitment and becomes a way of life – family meals, not to mention sleep time, are abandoned in emergencies. (I know his wife, retired teacher and artist Karen Webb, is nonetheless supportive of his valuable role.)
Williams calls the volunteers the “backbone of a fire hall” and thinks they deserve more recognition. Their jurisdiction is within residential boundaries; wildfires extending into the bush are the responsibility of BC Wildfire Service with its helicopters and specialized equipment. It is important that householders have their address visible to the street and also keep their address/phone numbers written beside phones – handy for visitors and even homeowners themselves, who have been known to forget their address in an emergency! Families should make sure they have an agreed-upon meeting place so everyone’s whereabouts can be quickly ascertained in emergencies. Of course prevention is key; be aware of situations that can lead to fires, especially with our increasing summer droughts.
At the June meeting of the Elphinstone Community Association at Frank West Hall, the Fire Prevention Officer along with some volunteers will do a hands-on fire extinguisher demonstration. So come right at 7 p.m. to the meeting on Wednesday, June 12 for this important fire safety presentation. And thank your local volunteer firefighters for the valuable job they do for our community!
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