Greater Victoria firefighters met on the ice to compete in a hockey game and launch a scholarship honouring two fallen service members.
The puck dropped March 25 for the inaugural Ken Gill and Forrest Owens Memorial Hockey Game, an event created to increase awareness of mental health and cancer incidents among fire service members.
Both Gill and Owens dedicated years of their lives to the community through their work in the fire service.
Gill spent 33 years as a firefighter with the Langford, Department of National Defence, Sidney and Oak Bay fire departments, where he was an ardent advocate for mental health. He died by suicide in 2018.
Owens spent 35 years as a volunteer firefighter, captain and then assistant fire chief in Central Saanich, where he shared his passions for fishing and sports, and served on numerous boards and committees. He died in 2022 from occupational cancer, which is the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths among fire service members.
Firefighters also face an increased risk of developing post-traumatic stress (PTS) due to the nature of their job as first responders, which can result in increased incidents of anxiety, depression and suicide.
The game, which is slated to occur annually, focused on bringing awareness to resources available to help service members overcome PTS and mental health issues as well as reducing the stigma of talking about them.
“We’re really trying to create a safe space for people to come out and talk,” said Esquimalt Fire Chief Steve Serbic. “Everyone holding a stick and playing hockey today, knew Forrest Owens or Ken Gill, who were firefighters in Greater Victoria, who were loved and who were mental health advocates. We’re here to play hockey and remember them.”
Two scholarships in Owens’ and Gill’s names for $1,000 were also awarded to two Esquimalt High School students, Cooper Vasey and Zara Kvakic.
Vasey is interested in policing or RCMP work. He also spends his time volunteering and is a sea cadet.
Kvakic is also a member of the sea cadets interested in becoming a member of the coast guard.
“They’ve done some cool things in the community and we want to acknowledge that on behalf of Ken Gill and Forrest Owens,” Serbic said.