The Colwood Firefighter's Historical Museum preserves the history of firefighters in our local community and provides fire safety education to children in our community in a fun and engaging way.
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The History of the Colwood Volunteer Fire Department
The Colwood Volunteer Fire Department's history began in 1939 when, with the breakout of hostilities in Europe, Air-Raid Protection (ARP) units were formed under the Provincial Protection Committee (civil defense) in the Colwood, Langford and View Royal areas.
One of the duties of the ARP unit was to give fire protection during an enemy air raid. Since there was no fire-fighting equipment in the communities, these groups were able to borrow Federal Government fire hoses and several pump trailers. In 1942, Mr. R.W. Robinson purchased a one ton open cab Chevrolet for $20.00 from a local vegetable gardener and donated it to the district. Housed on Mr. Robinson's property at the corner of Sooke and Metchosin Roads, the truck was soon readied for service.
The first Fire Chief, Len Slater of Colwood, and the first Deputy Chief, Mr. Casey Hansen of Langford, held practices with the volunteers on Sunday mornings. These practices were held at the streams under Station Road. (Now Jacklin Rd.) And on Sooke Rd. by the Royal Colwood Golf Course, as these were the only major sources of water. Later, several cisterns were built one at Colwood Corners to supply water for firefighting.
In June 1944 a large forest fire threatened the Langford and Colwood residents and was only brought under control by the joint work of the volunteer fire brigades, the forest service and Armed Forces personnel. This showed that water supplies other than ponds and streams were required for the protection of the districts. In November, 1944 the Colwood Community Club was Incorporated under the Societies Act and a special Inter-Community Committee was formed to include Langford and View Royal Community Clubs in order to place fire hydrants in the districts.
Through the efforts of the Colwood Community Club, funds were raised to purchase a second vehicle, a 1936 Chevrolet 11/2 ton from a Victoria fuel dealer. This truck was equipped with a red light, siren and a 200-gallon water tank. The wheels were removed from a trailer pump that was mounted on the truck and connected to the tank. With this new fire truck ready, it was given to Langford and housed under the Langford Community Hall at the corner of Carlow and Goldstream.
In August 1945 the Provincial Government purchased the wartime fire equipment from the federal government for a nominal fee and through civil defense, gave it to the communities. Work was now underway to raise money for the building of a one bay fire hall, to be located on the Colwood Community Hall property. Meanwhile, the efforts of the special Inter-Community Committee, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Ernie Emery, had progressed to the point of obtaining costs for the placement of hydrants and standpipes. In a reply to correspondence about these costs, Premier John Hart, in a letter dated March 15, 1945 suggested that the communities incorporate into an improvement district under the Water Act in order to borrow money and make tax levies to pay them off. On June 12, 1946 the Colwood Fire Protection District was incorporated. Elected to the first Board of Trustees were for a three-year term of office, Mr. Sam Vallis, Mr. Len Slater (1 year), and Mr. Charley Coombs (2 years). Mr. Walter Gwyer accepted the position of Fire Chief. The first budget was struck at $800.00 and eight fire hydrants were placed in the district. These hydrants served 150 residential properties from Parsons Bridge to the Lagoon, Metchosin intersection. An old fire report dated August 22, 1946 reads...Location - Mr. Bingles property, View Ave. Colwood. Approximately 3 p.m., Mrs. Proudfoot reported to the telephone exchange a fire at the above location. Mr. Bodman of the forest service and CVFD were called to the scene. Len Slater called from work and Charley Coombs and his hired hand brought the CVFD truck to the scene of the fire. Little damage. All buildings saved. Fire extinguished. Coombs and hired hand left and Slater remained in case of further outbreak. 5:08 p.m. Colin Smith arrived at scene and at 5:10 p.m., fire broke out again, the fire was extinguished again and Smith, Slater returned the truck at 6:05pm. In 1949, this district acquired a first line pumper, an ex-Airforce 1942 International, with a 280 gallon booster tank (later increased to 400 gallons) and a 500 Bickle rotary gear midship pump. The volunteer firefighters were overjoyed.
Practices were held on Thursday evenings and more than occasionally on Sunday mornings. Inside lectures could be held if the fire truck was parked outside so in 1952, the volunteers expanded the small garage with a second bay, a hose tower, offices and a second floor which was used for lectures and recreation. The Firefighter’s Association furnished the second floor from monies collected from fighting forest fires and association functions .
This same year the Highway Sawmill, located on the present site of Westbrook Shopping Center in Langford, burned to the ground. The fire however, through the valiant efforts of the local volunteer fire departments, did not spread to any of the wooden buildings on either side. In 1954, The BC Telephone Company changed to the automatic switchboards for the Belmont exchange. This also meant a change for the fire department as until now the fire calls were received by the telephone operator, who in turn set off the small siren on top of the community hall. Once again Colwood and Langford got together and chose to use radio-transceivers. Saanich Fire Dept. agreed to handle the emergency telephone and transmit tones by radio to set off the alarms. At the same time, mobile radios were installed in the fire trucks of both districts. Messages could now be relayed between the fire halls and the fire trucks.
This was a busy time for Fire Chief Dick Emery, who had taken over in 1953. The fire district was expanding rapidly and no sooner did the Esquimalt Lagoon area petition for fire protection, when the Latoria Rd. residents did the same. A second fire truck was purchased from Saanich in 1957 to help cover the additional area. In 1958, the Albert Head area also petitioned the trustees to be included in the fire protection district. For all the volunteer firefighters, training continued. Technology was improving, as well as firefighting equipment, and as this new equipment was acquired, the men had to be well versed on its use.
At 5:02 am, April Fool's Day 1961, the volunteers were called to a fire at the Colwood Plaza. They arrived to find the Shop-Easy Grocery store fully involved. With the help of Langford and Department of National Defense firefighters from Belmont Park, the fire was brought under control with little damage to other stores.
In 1962 the Armed Forces took over responsibility of the air raid sirens, two of which Colwood was using to call out the firefighters. This forced the fire dept. to go to air horns as a means of sounding the alarm. The two pumpers were now 20 years old and needed to be replaced. In 1963, the Trustees agreed. The volunteers drew up specifications for tender and in 1964 took delivery of a 1964 Mercury 850 with a 625 gpm two stage pump and 500 gallon booster tank.
This new fire truck was painted white, based on a report received from the Ministry of Highways confirming that white is the most visible colour in limited light and in most weather conditions. On the door panel was painted Hatley Castle, the new emblem of the Colwood Volunteer Fire Department. Incorporated into the truck were several innovations such as side cupboards for smoke masks and two 1.5" pre-connected hoses.
An increasing demand for the services relating to the fire dept required the Trustees to hire a day man for two of the summer months in 1965. This was increased to two men in 1966. After 13 years of dedicated service, Dick Emery retired as fire chief and Dick Proudfoot was appointed.
One project at this time was outfitting a 1955 Dodge Power Wagon four wheel drive for fighting bush fires. This truck was kept at the home of Alec Chow, and manned by the volunteers in that area. It proved to be a versatile and popular vehicle. Also in 1966, street lighting was added to the letters patent and the Trustees busied themselves placing street lighting at major intersections. In 1967, The Saanich council increased the fee schedule for handling the emergency calls, which proved to be unsatisfactory to Colwood. A change to a private answering service was made. In 1969, a full time maintenance man was hired to keep up the equipment and to handle permits and inspections.
The Langford volunteers, who had provided ambulance service for the districts since 1951 asked the Colwood men to take over some of the load. An Econoline can was purchased in 1970 and along with other duties, the fire dept. acted as back up for the Langford ambulance, until the province took over the ambulance service.
In 1971, the Department of Highways announced the widening of Sooke Rd. to four lanes, so plans were made for the construction of a new hall. The Trustees purchased 1.25 acres of property from the federal government at the intersection of Metchosin and Wishart Roads.
On June 12, the 25th Anniversary of the Colwood Fire Protection District, Mr. Sam Vallis turned the first sod. In November 1972, the volunteers moved their equipment into the new fire hall. The workload was becoming such that in 1973 the Fire Chief was hire full time and Colwood received its second new truck in August. The Econoline van was sold and a new Plymouth station wagon was purchased. This vehicle was equipped with an inhalator and first aid supplies as well as being used as the Chief's car.
In that same year, the district purchased a "mini-pumper" to replace the aging power wagon. This small truck was used for fast response to attack small fires in the initial stages. In November 1977, a second maintenance man was hired to assist with the workload and augment daytime manpower.
In 1978, studies were begun into incorporation. While both sides argued the pros and cons, the volunteers assured the residents that no matter what the vote, the firefighters would continue to serve the community as volunteers. New uniforms were purchased to replace the old battledress style. This year also marked the first time Santa toured the area on a fire truck to the delight of all the district's children.
1981 marked the 35th Anniversary of the Fire Department as a Fire Protection District.To commemorate the occasion, each member of the department was presented with an engraved stein. Pagers were purchased for the volunteers to assist in calling out the firefighters. Though the air horns are very loud, the new houses are too well insulated for the sound to effectively penetrate.
In July, the Fireman's Association hosted the V.I.F.F.A. field day, the third time this event had been organized and held in Colwood. In 1984, Colwood received delivery of a new 1250gpm triple combination Mack pumper to replace the 1964 Mercury fire truck which was sold to Otter Point Fire Department and is still in service today. The 'Mack' equipped with air brakes required the volunteers to upgrade their class '3' licenses to include air brake endorsements.
The politics of the community once more came to the forefront, and during the fall of '84 and spring of 1985, many of the members took active roles in distributing literature on the pros and cons of incorporation. After an affirmative vote, Colwood became an incorporated city. The fire department would still continue to operate within the boundaries of the Colwood Fire Protection District. As Colwood was now the only area using T.A.S. for answering the emergency fire number, the Trustees decided to contract C.L.M. Answering service instead. The new emergency number became 474-3322 and "Hatley Control" was born. It was located across Sooke Road from the original location of the old Belmont Exchange. In December, the volunteers delivered notification of this change to every household and business in the District.
1986, the fortieth year since the formation of the Colwood Fire Protection District. The Plymouth station wagon was replaced with a Dodge 6000 sedan, which now serves as an inspection vehicle. With the assistance of the BC Lotteries grant, the trustees were able to approve the addition to the fire station of another bay to display the antique fire truck and memorabilia. It also included a training tower and recreational space upstairs for the Volunteers. The addition was opened in September and each member received a forty-year commemorative stein.
In November 1986, the Canadian Fire Services Exemplary Medal was awarded to seven members: Alan Emery, Richard Proudfoot, Alf Peatt, Mike Gibson, Adrian Birtwistle, Don Milton, and Geoff Amy. In January 1987, heavy hydraulic and pneumatic rescue equipment was purchased to add to the light rescue equipment already in service. It was now necessary to have one vehicle dedicated to rescue. A 1974 Chevrolet Command Vehicle was purchased from the Emergency Health Services and after an extensive overhaul by the volunteers, this vehicle was placed into service.
After much research, the Fire Department decided to purchase a used 77 foot Simon Snorkel articulating aerial platform truck from the Sparwood Fire department. This unit was only four years old and then Board of Trustees Chairman Dick Emery, Fire Chief Russ Cameron and Captain Derek Emery traveled to Sparwood, BC to view the apparatus and seal the deal. The plan was to drive the truck down to Hub Fire Engines in Abbotsford where it would receive a few new modifications before delivery to Colwood. After fighting winter road conditions to get the truck to Abbotsford and painting it in Colwood colors, Snorkel 57 was placed into service in late 1990. The volunteer members were thrilled to have such a capable unit and training began with much enthusiasm and pride. Within months after going into service the truck demonstrated its worth in providing access to the roof of Wishart School so that firefighters could extinguish a roof fire started by workers who were replacing the torch on style material.
Hired to fill the vacancy left with the appointment of the new Fire Chief, Mr. Kerry Smith from the Central Saanich Fire Department was selected to fulfill the role of Assistant Chief Training Officer to enhance and manage the training changes that had been implemented. This addition also provided a fresh face and new perspective to compliment the changes that were occurring with the department. This was also the year that the Fire Department purchased uniforms for all members. These uniforms were a return to the traditional Eisenhower short battle dress type uniforms that were originally worn by the Fire Department, embracing a past tradition and increasing pride within the department.
At the close of the year 1990, the Colwood Volunteer Fire Department had responded to 158 calls for emergency service, which included 20 calls for fires involving structures, 20 grass or brush fires and 23 rescue or medical first aid calls.
In January 1991 the newly incorporated City of Colwood (1985) was directed by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to take over the operation of the Fire Department. The Board of Trustees was dissolved marking an end to the Colwood Fire Protection District and letters patent. This represented a significant change to the Fire Department as the Fire Chief and his staff had to report to a City Manager and full Council as opposed to a smaller Board of Trustees whose sole purpose was just to manage the Fire Department. This was a very busy time for Fire Chief Cameron and Assistant Fire Chief Smith as almost all processes, budgets and reporting methods were dealt with differently as they had been in the past. Despite the differences in process, change brought an energy to match the heavy workload and opportunity for positive change and education of new political masters.
Change was also required of the two paid career firefighters who had now became part of a much larger group of employees. All in all the transition went smoothly and progressively. For the most part the volunteer firefighters also embraced the change as an opportunity to continue to serve their community, newly branded as a “City” and the opportunities that it would bring. By the end of 1991, the Fire Department had responded to 152 emergency calls, the most serious of which was a structure fire at 3340 Metchosin Road. This blaze was caused by misuse of a cigarette resulting in approximately $15,000 damage to the building and its contents.
Volunteer and career firefighters completed a total of 3,121 man hours of training during 1991 under the new programs that were now being delivered in the department.
1992 brought about a unique opportunity for the Colwood Fire Department, when they were selected by the Insurance Corporation of B.C. (ICBC) to be featured in a motor vehicle crash/ fire safety video to be aired on television. Department members seized the opportunity to show case their skills by participating in a controlled Motor Vehicle Accident on Sooke Road. The theme of the staged accident scenario was a rear end collision involving a large tractor trailer and small compact car resulting in an explosion and fire. Initiated and managed by an experienced production company, the scene was recreated by shutting down a section of Sooke Road at Mt View Avenue. The resulting rear end accident and massive explosion with Colwood Fire Department arriving lights and sirens to save the day was shear movie magic. The resulting production was aired on several major TV stations around the Province, and our distinctive white trucks viewed with pride by the members. This was Colwood Volunteer Fire Department’s first but not last experience with the movie scene.
Later that year, an enquiry made to our local Fuel Tank farm manager with Petro Canada, resulted in a donation of a 1977 International 2000 gallon Fuel Tank Truck, which represented an addition to our fleet of emergency vehicles. This truck was completely restored through the donation of countless hours of personal time and expertise of our volunteer members. It was converted to a water hauler that was capable of carrying 1500 gallons of water to any fire situation. Captain Derek Emery and Lieutenant Frank Gale were both recognized for their hard work and dedication to the completion of the Tanker project. Tanker 58 as it came to be known, was used to supply water to many areas that were still not serviced with fire hydrants or an adequate water supply.
On August 27, 1993 at 7:16 p.m. during a calm summer evening, the Colwood Volunteer Fire Department responded to the Construction Aggregates gravel pit site for a report of a large loader that was fully involved in fire as a result of a broken hydraulic line spraying onto the engine. Flames from this spectacular fire were fairly visible upon the Fire Department’s arrival and suppression was further complicated by a lack of water and the sheer size of the machine. After establishing a water supply with our new Tanker truck, the fire was extinguished. In the end, the loader received over $100,000 worth of damage. The year 1993 also saw our second venture into the movie scene as the Colwood Fire Department was featured in a prominent US video magazine publication. A small crew from Fire Scene Video Magazine spent two days in Colwood recording our actions and response to local emergencies. This resulted in a well-produced documentary depicting two days in the life of our firefighters at the Colwood Fire Department. This production remains available for viewing in our media library.
In 1994 Greater Victoria hosted the Common Wealth Games. This was a busy year for the administrative staff at the Fire Department as three venues for this world recognized event were to be constructed at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre in Colwood. As the sole provider of fire and rescue emergency services to this local property, the Colwood Fire department spent many hours planning and developing contingencies for all types of emergency events to pre-determined standards set by an international organizing committee. During the games, Chief Cameron was Emergency Venue Commander for the complete site with Assistant Chief Smith acting as site commander during peak event competitions. The whole department was required to participate in this world class event pulling volunteer shifts while embedded in the attending crowds and manning an onsite golf cart equipped with emergency response kits. This was a once in a life time experience and all members of the Fire Department stepped up and delivered a high degree of public service without any issues or complications.
1995 marked the completion and grand opening of our new Firefighter’s Museum located next to the main fire station building. Seeking a permanent home for numerous historical firefighting artifacts and vintage fire trucks, this three year project was undertaken by both past and present fire department members with strong financial support from both the community and government donations. Numerous people participated in this project and Associate Member Dick Emery and Fire Chief Russ Cameron were both recognized by the Association President for their work fostering and guiding the project to its successful end at the annual firefighter’s awards banquet in November. The department also took delivery of its first Custom Cab triple combination rear mounted 1500 igpm pumper. Designed by senior members of the Colwood Fire Department, Engine 51 was only the second rear mounted full size pumper in Canada and the first of its kind on the West Coast. Its innovative design was based on the premise that the Pump Operator was better utilized situated at the back corner of the truck where he could make his one hydrant connection and step out of traffic if required. The rear mounted pump also allowed for a full tank of water to be accessed when the truck was positioned uphill as was often the case during operations on Triangle Mountain. The new fire engine also had a fully enclosed cab to meet the new requirements of NFPA and as such, the firefighters were no longer permitted to ride on the back of the vehicle. With the romance of riding the rear gate now a distant memory, the added safety of having every firefighter in a seat equipped with a seat belt was now the industry norm. Hence another change in fire service tradition as the Department progressed towards being the best it could be. Old Engine 51 (the Ford Thibault) was sold on trade in to the Moberly Lake Fire Department. After servicing this community for a number of years it was donated and shipped by freighter to Nicaragua where it’s use was continued and it’s known whereabouts ends.
On June 12, 1996 the Colwood Volunteer Fire Department celebrated its 50th Anniversary of service to the community with a spectacular social and summer barbeque. This public historical event was held on the observation deck of Hatley Castle on the historic Royal Roads University grounds, the very monument from which the original fire department logo was born. Many members past and present helped mark the anniversary by attending the event at Royal Roads University. This event was followed by an Open House at the fire station. The day’s events were capped off with a huge fireworks display on the grounds of City Hall that was put on by the Firefighters, and to which all of the community came out to support us and enjoy the show. It was a huge success and everyone pulled together to make this milestone a successful and memorable event in Colwood Fire Department history. 1996 also marked the year that the responsibility for emergency response to all Federal lands within the City of Colwood borders (Belmont Park, Wilfert Road Supply Depot and Fort Rodd Hill ) was transferred to Colwood Fire Department due to the decision by the Department of National Defence (DND) to close their Fire Station at Belmont Park. This transfer of responsibility was a huge undertaking and required the hiring of additional firefighting personnel. Volunteer member and Heavy Duty mechanic Frank Gale was hired as a full time career firefighter to help maintain the building and equipment so that other staff could focus on duties and responsibilities related to new development in the City. This would now place the compliment of career firefighting members at five (5) staff with 31 volunteer members for a total firefighting force of 36 members.
Quite possibly the largest test for the Colwood Fire Department and the Greater Victoria region as a whole, was an extreme weather system that brought with it an enormous dump of snow and lengthy power outages. The Blizzard of ’96 as it came to be known, paralyzed the City of Colwood and every other surrounding municipality in the region. The snow fall and subsequent requests for emergency assistance pushed the fire department to a 24 hour operation as crews tried to respond to a variety of medical emergencies, chimney fires and several non-emergency type public assist calls through three plus feet of heavy snow. For almost 72 hours, with the aid of backhoes, loaders and bulldozers to clear a passable lane way on some of our main streets and roads to allow for emergency access, the Fire Department responded to calls for help as best they could. At one point, Fire Chief Cameron commandeered two snow mobile riders who were blasting around the fire station to assist firefighters with the transport of crews, medical equipment and also to assist crews to transport a woman who was in labour, down from her Triangle Mountain home to a waiting ambulance at the base of the mountain. The memory of waking up to all that snow with no initial means to move a fire engine or other vehicle in response to an emergency page was forever etched in our minds. However, despite the challenges presented them, the staff and volunteers of the Colwood Fire Department did prevail and eventually all calls were answered, albeit some in an unconventional fashion.
In 1997 the Fire Chief’s vehicle was replaced with a Chevy Tahoe and outfitted as a Duty Officer/Command response vehicle. All career staff were now required to take regular shifts as the Duty Officer for after hours calls and direct response to emergencies. This had been the routine in recent years, however the new vehicle allowed for a more comprehensive response and operation. The old Dodge 600 vehicle used in the past was sold privately.
The year 1999 saw the retirement of long serving day staff firefighters Ed Robinson and Ralph D’Gal. As a result, John Cassidy was hired from the Whistler Fire Department as the new career Fire Inspector/Firefighter for the department. Members completed 3,432.5 hours of training in this calendar year and the fire department responded to 333 requests for emergency service.
2000 to 2009
A significant house fire on Evans Drive on January 8th, 2000 brought about a full response from the Colwood Fire Department including a complete and factual report from Captain Frank Gale who lived right next door from the blaze. As the story goes, his explanation of seeing the fire next door as he responded and his verbal size up of the fire upon his arrival to the station was very descriptive and done in a few short words. Needless to say, this garnered a full response of the fire department in a somewhat quick-ended fashion.
During 2002 the Colwood Fire Department responded to 358 emergency calls with a total of 449 requests for service from the public. Approximately 60% of the emergency calls attended in the year 2002 were for medical First Responder service. This was due to a shift to a different pre-hospital care model that involved the local fire departments to a higher degree. The department purchased a new 2000 Half ton Chevrolet 4x4 pick-up to be used as an Inspection and Chief’s vehicle. (Truck 50). This same year, with much fanfare and pride, the fire department took delivery of a full custom cab Spartan Salisbury Rescue truck. This apparatus was designed to be highly functional for a variety of rescue situations and to support large fire operations. A workhorse as such, the new truck replaced the old and converted ambulance command vehicle (Rescue 56), which was way beyond its operational value.
Mrs. LaVerne Churchill retired in 2004 and as a result, Mrs. Joanne Topping was hired as Administrative Assistant to continue to develop this support position to meet the continually evolving administrative requirements of the Fire Department. On Halloween night in 2004, misuse of fireworks caused a major house fire at 3353 Wishart Road. The discharge of fireworks was steadily becoming an issue in the City and as a result of this fire there was increased public pressure to prohibit the future sale and use of fireworks in Colwood. After many years of trying to secure funding from City Council and to formulate an operational plan, 2004 marked the official start of the fire station renovation project. The purpose of this anticipated renovation that involved areas both inside and outside of the building was not only necessary to create more space for vehicles and equipment, but more importantly to bring the fire station building up to post disaster (earthquake) standards. This was a complicated project as it required that the station remain fully functional for all emergencies on a daily basis while still meeting a construction schedule. There were many challenges and interesting stories that were told during that time about getting the trucks out the door so to speak.
The renovation project was brought to successful completion in early 2005. A few months later, at an Official Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and reception held in the Apparatus Bays of the new building, the fire station was rededicated to all those who have served and continue to serve the community in their capacity as firefighters. With a fresh new look, the new building was much more functional for current operations. Prior to the renovation, Tanker 58 and the utility vehicles had been stored outside due to a lack of storage space experienced in the old building. As part of the renovation a brass fire pole was installed from the upper floor of the new wing to the apparatus floor below. This nostalgic addition to the station replicated the pole that was in the old Firehall on Sooke Road back in the early days. Concurrently all apparatus and equipment could now be placed inside the building.
At the direction of Council and in conjunction with some other land transfer deals, Fire Chief Cameron successfully negotiated with the Department of National Defence to purchase some land that surrounded the current fire station. These lands were purchased to provide for additional parking and a training area, since the new building foot print had encompassed much of the existing parking area on the south side of the station. An additional one acre parcel of land was added to the site at the corner of Wishart and Metchosin to approximately 2.25 acres in total, which was now enough land for an additional training area and a separate garage building for storing the fire department foam trailer and other operational supplies.
Also in 2005, members of the Fire Department under the banner of the Colwood Firefighter’s Association, embarked on a fund raising campaign to purchase two heart defibrillator units and two thermal imagingin cameras. This successful fundraising project called the “Saving Hearts and Homes” campaign quickly caught the attention of the community, and with generous donations received from public and corporate sponsors, the heart defibrillators and thermal imaging cameras were purchased, along with a zodiac rescue boat, seadoo and trailer were purchased and placed in to service. Assistant Chief Geoff Amy was recognized at the annual awards banquet later that year for taking the lead on this successful fundraising endeavor.
On November 25, 2006, almost ten years to the day of the intense snowstorm, the City was hit with the windstorm of the century. This severe windstorm that began just after midnight, battered the community for almost 3 hours with hurricane force winds . Numerous large trees were toppled in the storm, which impacted many homes and caused massive power outages in the region. Colwood and Sooke were some of the worst hit communities. Prepared with full emergency backup power to the fire station building, the Fire Department was able to continue to operate through the night dealing with significant electrical hazards of downed power lines, blocked streets and assisting residents whose homes had been damaged by fallen trees. Many streets were made impassable and it was several days before order resumed in the City as BC hydro worked feverishly to restore the power grid. This single storm event caused over 66 calls for assistance for the fire department to respond to. 2006 will always be remembered as our busiest response year to date in the history of the fire department as we responded to 557 emergency calls, 161 non-emergency type calls for a total of 718 requests for service. The Colwood Fire Department had come a long way with respect to our ability to deliver emergency service. With further development proposed for Colwood, the demands and expected level of service would continue to grow. Late in 2006, and prompted by continuous complaints from the public about outdoor burning and smoke control, combined with a steady increase in the number of unattended open beach fires found along the Esquimalt Lagoon, discussions started with Colwood Council to consider the adoption of a new bylaw to ban open burning in Colwood, including beach fires.
In April of 2008, the new City of Colwood Outdoor Burning Restriction and Regulation Bylaw No. 931 was adopted by Colwood Council. This new bylaw was rolled out over a two year period to assist Colwood residents and the general public with the transition to a total ban. As an alternative to open burning, residents were encouraged to use a free, branch drop-off program at the Public Works yard. This program was a huge success and continues today on the first and third Saturday of every month. Concurrently, and despite having a paid permit process already in place, a growing number of requests for the fire department to attend the beach to put out unattended beach fires was becoming a significant problem. The new bylaw also addressed this issue by banning beach fires altogether. It was hoped that the beach fire ban on the Esquimalt Lagoon would significantly reduce the workload and response of the fire department. Although it had taken several years to educate the general public about the new burning restrictions, Bylaw 931 was a welcome change for the fire department with an unmistakable decline in statistics for errant fires as a result.
In 2009 the department took delivery of a new tandem axle, full custom cab pumper tanker equipped with a full pump rated at 1250 igpm and 1600 gallon capacity to replace the old converted truck (T58). Manufactured by Spartan (Chassis) and assembled by Hub Fire Engines in Abbotsford, this truck was one of the nicest looking trucks in the fleet with huge firefighting capabilities when supplying or pumping water. After a motor vehicle mishap with our Service Truck 53, the chassis was replaced with a new 4X4 one ton Ford Diesel chassis and the old truck body was modified and then installed on the new chassis . This main purpose of this customized unit was to transport a crew of six firefighters with the foam trailer or water rescue unit in tow. The newly created service vehicle was given call number 54.
In 2009 the department responded to a total of 586 requests for service including six (6) structure fires and completed over 4,168 hours of training to maintain and learn new skill sets. The department’s annual report for this year provides an interesting insight into the philosophy of the fire department at this period in time with a single motto: “One must have the desire to serve, the courage to act and the ability to perform.” It is apparent from its early beginnings, that the Colwood Fire Department has had a solid foundation of commitment after all these years.
2010 to 2013
On June 6, 2010 the Colwood Firefighters responded to one of the largest structure fires in Colwood Fire Department history at the old Colwood Plaza at 1913 Sooke Road. One wing of the structure was fully involved and threatening the currently vacant Shop Easy/Fairways store building. While this was the second major fire in the history of the Colwood Plaza, firefighters from Colwood, View Royal and Langford fought together to contain the fire to one of the older wings of the plaza, saving the old grocery store from burning for a second time as it did back on April 1st 1961. All available equipment from Colwood Fire Department was deployed to fight this fire along with a new aerial apparatus (Ladder 35) from the View Royal Fire Department.
Also in 2010, as part of several green community initiatives taken on by the City of Colwood, a new electric hybrid Ford Escape SUV vehicle was purchased by the Fire Department. This vehicle was designated as Car 53 and was to be used exclusive by the Inspection Division to assist with lowering over all fuel costs in the fire department budget.
In 2011 the Colwood Fire Department responded to a request for mutual aid to the Langford Fire Department to assist them at the base of the Malahat near Goldstream Park with a motor vehicle incident involving a large twin trailer fuel tanker ( B-Train) that had rolled over. Colwood responded with our new Service Truck 54 towing our Foam Trailer to provide vapor control and fire protection to the scene in light of the flammable liquid cargo. The scene was described by one of our responding firefighters as, “once the foam trailer got operating, everything was pretty much white after that”. He was describing the capabilities of the foam unit to lay down an extensive foam blanket to suppress any risk of fire as a result of the flammable liquid spill. The department responded to a total of 527 requests for service in 2011 and only one call involved a fire in a structure, although there was a higher than average number of vehicle fires that occurred in this same year.
2012 was an exciting year as we placed a new fire engine (E52) in service. This new engine replaced the Mack fire truck, which was now 27 years old. Purchased from Spartan and outfitted by Hub Fire Engines in Abbotsford, new Engine 52 was a rear mounted pumper with rescue style body, capable of pumping large volumes of water at a rate of over 1750 imperial gallons per minute. This truck marked a new era in fire apparatus for the Colwood Fire Department as the pump controls on the new engine were all now electronically controlled. The entire pump panel is colour coded to each function and all discharges have digital flow meter gauges. This was the first truck of its kind on Vancouver Island with full electronic controls and the pride of the Colwood Fire Department fleet.
In 2012, after a period of many years of growing dissatisfaction with respect to the 911 fire dispatching service provided by Langford Fire Department via contract with the CRD, Colwood Fire Department Staff began to look for an alternative 911 Fire Dispatch service provider. The Fire Department was getting busier and desired a higher level of service that eventually proved to be an impasse between all parties. Concurrently, Saanich Fire Department had recently upgraded their dispatch facilities and were more than willing and capable of accepting other fire departments into their modern dispatch service. After much research and many lengthy reports to Protective Services and Council, fire department administration was directed by Council to terminate the contract with Langford Fire Dispatch and the CRD and enter into a new contract with Saanich Dispatch for 911 Fire Dispatch services. This move also allowed the Colwood Fire Department an opportunity to receive benefit of the latest and newest technology as well as a full dispatch model of service. Oddly enough, back in the early 50’s Saanich was Colwood's emergency service dispatch provider. Sometimes history does repeat itself.
The year 2012 also marked the retirement of long time volunteer member Assistant Chief George Wright. Chief Wright had put in 25 years of service when he retired. He was always liked and recognized by his peers and it is acknowledged that he holds claim to having the highest attendance rate for both drills and emergency calls for many years. George truly understood what it meant to dedicate oneself to serving his community. He was often referred to as the phantom paid staff member as he seemed to always be at the station.
On September 30, 2013, there was a “changing of the guard” ceremony at Colwood City Hall as Fire Chief Russ Cameron officially retired from the Fire department after serving 35.5 years, of which 24.5 of those years were in the capacity of Fire Chief for the City of Colwood. Chief Cameron was the longest serving Fire Chief in the history of Colwood Fire Department. At the same time, Colwood Council appointed then Deputy Fire Chief, Kerry Smith as Fire Chief and successor to guide the Colwood Fire Department into the future.