Times have changed and technology has advanced, but the Vancouver Islanders who choose to run towards the region’s fires, crashes and disasters face enormous risks to their health and safety every day.
Some of them sacrifice their lives to keep their communities safe.
Flags across Canada – including the B.C. Legislature’s Canadian flag – flew at half mast last Sunday for the 16th Firefighters’ National Memorial Day, created to honour the sacrifices of fallen firefighters across the nation.
“Our hearts go out to those who are grieving for loved ones who have lost their lives in the line of duty, and to those who have suffered injuries, traumas and illnesses,” said Premier John Horgan in a statement. “Firefighters’ jobs encompass much more than fighting fires. Often the first to arrive on the scene of an emergency, firefighters require remarkable skill, as well as mental and physical strength, to quickly respond to difficult and complex situations.”
While fires may be an immediate source of danger for crews, firefighters are also frequently exposed to carcinogenic chemicals, increasing their risk of developing cancer.
Esquimalt Fire Department Chief Chris Jancowski remarked on the significant shifts towards safety and mental and physical health that have occurred over his career.
At one point, having the smelliest, smokiest, most charred fire gear might be seen as a point of honour, he recalled. Now there are protocols in place to remove toxins and keep equipment as clean as possible.
“From a technology point of view, things have improved,” Jancowski said. “We owe it to ourselves and our families to make sure we take proactive steps for safety.”
Health too is a bigger priority, Jancowski noted. “There’s a lot more conversations going on in the community today – its a step forward,” he said. “Most fire departments now have programs in place to provide a resource to members to provide physical and emotional support.”
John Cassidy, Colwood fire chief and representative for the Greater Victoria Fire Chiefs Association, says Firefighters’ National Memorial Day reminds him of the every day unknowns faced by fire crews across Greater Victoria.
“Every day you don’t know … if that will be a day will tax you more than another day or if you will have to tow the line and put your life on the line for your community,” he said. “This job is not for everyone. You have to be a little bit crazy to love this line of work … But there’s so many men and women that love this job and love what they’re doing.”
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