As forest fires continue to rage across western Canada, residents in Errington can find some peace of mind knowing that their volunteer fire department is ready for a worst-case scenario.
The Errington Volunteer Fire Department (EVFD) has just certified more than two dozen of their members to work with their Structure Protection Unit (SPU).
The SPU is a firefighting tool that has proven to be effective in protecting structures in the event of a wildfire.
Equipped with several different sprinkler heads, pumps, hoses and water tanks, the system can be deployed to protect homes or structures that are in danger of being destroyed by fast-spreading wildfires.
EVFD training officer and acting deputy chief Dave Dahlstedt said the department was one of the first to become experienced with the sprinkler unit and is one of only four on Vancouver Island that has an SPU.
The Comox, Oyster River and Langford volunteer fire departments also have similar systems, but Dahlstedt pointed out that the Errington crew has extensive previous experience in deploying sprinkler protection systems.
“Our crew is really well versed on SPU. We could cover quite a few homes and we are confident in our system,” said Dahlstedt.
He said developing the system was largely due to EVFD involvement with interface fires in Kelowna in 2003.
The department recognized the need to protect the rural community of Errington as well as helping neighbours in need all over the province, so an innovative and proactive team of officers and firefighters designed and built Errington’s SPU trailer. He said in 2010 the EVFD deployed its SPU and a crew of five men and women to the Williams Lake wildfires and it proved to be a powerful fire fighting tool.
“Over 36,000 hectares in multiple locations were actively — and many times aggressively — on fire. Over a period of 21 consecutive days, 12 hours a day, we worked in conjunction with the wildfire management branch to assess, triage, implement and maintain sprinkler protection for many residential and farm structures,” he said.
According to Dahlstedt, the training and experience they were involved in while being deployed was worth years of regular practice night training scenarios.
“It is so hard to replace or replicate real live training. We were stationed 15 to 20 kilometres from Williams Lake, servicing farms and acreages many kilometres apart.”
“The ability to improvise, find, collect and manage water resources was also a big asset for our team. At many times in both Kelowna and Williams Lake we were up close and personal with wildfire situations,” he acknowledged.
He said because the Errington crew has extensive previous experience in building construction and sprinkler protection systems combined with its portability to take it into remote areas they can deploy the equipment to assist other jurisdictions on request.
He added they had the foresight to train even more members of the department on the system and with the extreme dry conditions in the region right now, the EVFD is prepared.
“I am glad we started training when we did … we are in good shape.”
He said in the near future they are looking forward to expanding and improving the SPU system and to train their fire fighters to even higher levels of skill and knowledge in order to better serve the community and their neighbours.