Crews from the Lake Cowichan Fire Department that took turns helping with the fires in Penticton and Keremeos in August are now back home safe and sound.
“We did about 18 days,” said Chief Doug Knott. “We had a tender up there and were in Apex Mountain Resort at different times, a lot of times in the community of Olalla (near Keremeos) on Highway 3a, and also the Green Mountain Road area; there was a lot of damage there,” Knott said.
Lake Cowichan Fire Department sent three shifts of two firefighters who worked about seven days before switching out.
Knott was on the first shift. He and Tyler Bergen were the first to go, followed by the teams of Elija Ellison and Bill Hieta, and Monroe Grobe and Jessica Knowles.
Their main priority was structure protection, Knott said.
The crews were starting at the B.C. Wildfire Service base camp set up at the airport in Oliver to house hundreds of visiting crew members.
“They like to use the Island [fire departments] because the Island doesn’t have as many problems,” as elsewhere in the province, Knott explained. He said they served with crews from Courtenay, Ladysmith, North Cowichan, Cowichan Bay, Mill Bay, Metchosin and Central Saanich to name a few.
Knott noted that while it’s unfortunate for those affected by the fires, it gives his firefighters unparalleled training they wouldn’t otherwise get.
“It trains our people up extremely well,” he said. “We get a lot of training out of that experience for sure.”
Lake Cowichan Fire Department has sent crews to fires off the Island for six of the last eight years or thereabouts, Knott said. Their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
“We are very fortunate to have such dedicated and well trained women and men in our fire department and I feel extremely proud that we are able to share our firefighters and equipment with communities affected by wildfires,” said Lake Cowichan Mayor Bob Day. “I know the rest of council and the greater community share the same feelings.”
In other fire department news, Knott said his crew was called out by RCMP to rescue seven stranded tubers recently.
“The RCMP called us at about 10 p.m.,” he said. “It’s a really hard place to find people and it was after midnight by the time we got to them,” Knott said.
While his department does have swift water-trained personnel, he made the decision to call Cowichan Search and Rescue as they’re better trained at night rescues.
“It could really have gone wrong. They were only in bathing suits. Hypothermia was an issue,” Knott said. “They did the right thing: they stayed in place and they didn’t move. They didn’t separate.”
The department members were able to locate the tubers and manoeuvre through the water, which was “chest and neck” deep to string a line across the river.
They were able to get all seven tubers back across the river before Search and Rescue to arrived.
“SAR aided us to get them warm,” Knott said. “We have a faster turnout in that area than Search and Rescue would have but it was well worth it to bring SAR out.”
As for the tubers, “they were very grateful and very cold,” he said. “But a lesson was learned out there on the river.”