The NEWS (Q): Tell us about your family's long history with the department.
Doug Banks (B): Dad was 45 years in the fire service here in Parksville, 22 of those years he was deputy chief. My grandfather Bill was one of the first fire chiefs. He and his brother, uncle Fred, who had Save on Gas — that used to be Banks' Garage and Machine Shop — they were some of the original members of the fire department. So there's always been a member of our family in the fire department.
Q: When was the department formed?
B: The fire department officially formed in the summer of 1942. It actually started out as the air raid precautions during the war because they were worried about incendiary bombs. Before that there wasn't any real organized service. Part of the incentive for my grandfather to get involved was they were burned out of their house, they lost everything.
Q: When did you get involved?
B: I officially became a member on Feb. 15, 1971, I joined as a junior member when I was 16, up until then I was hangin around, probably being a pain in the ass.
Q: When did you become chief?
B: January 9 will be 25 years. When I became chief it was still a volunteer position, it used to be the membership would vote on the chief and the deputy chief, and then it would be approved by council, so I was elected Jan. 9, 1989.
Q: When did it become a paid position and how common are unpaid chiefs?
B: It became full time June 15, 1992, I was the first paid position. The majority of fire departments in B.C. are still volunteer, there's probably more volunteer chiefs than career. Even in this area only three of the chiefs are career. In all of Oceanside there's only six paid fire personnel.
Q: How is it different now with some (three) paid staff?
B: What the paid members are doing is making it easier for the volunteers, we're doing the administrative end, the fire service is becoming a lot more formalized, there's more training and regulation. By having the career staff it allows the volunteers to come and do what they have to do and go back to their jobs.
Q: What's the biggest difference since you started?
B: Call volume is the big thing, when I started we were probably doing 50 or 60 calls a year and now we're up over 300 or 400. The public expectations have also changed but I don't have any way of quantifying that.
Q: Have the types of calls changed?
B: Not a lot, we didn't have natural gas back then, so we get a few of those calls, and when I started we didn't have the jaws of life, but we'd still go to the ambulance calls and that sort of thing. The per cent of fires was probably greater back then.
Q: What else has changed over your tenure?
B: The equipment is a little more sophisticated, but it does the same thing. Our turn out gear is a lot better, we're better protected and the breathing apparatus has improved quite a bit. The communications on scene, when I joined we didn't have portable radios. Generally our procedures, our command structure, it's a lot more organized than when I joined.
One of the biggest things recently is the advance in thermal imaging cameras, you can go in and get a better idea of where the hot spots are. Fortunately we haven't had a chance to use it to find people, our number of structure fires where people may still be inside is, I think we've had one or two in the past few years. In my time as chief we've only had one fire death, one fire death in the last 25 years, it's one too many but...
Before I was chief a couple kids perished in a fire, the members could hear them but couldn't find them. If they had the technology that we have now they might have been able to find them.
Q: After 42 years does the job become routine?
B: There's always different things, a lot calls may be a similar type, but there's always something. The big thing that stands out is all the different people that have gone through here and served the community, I was in with a lot of guys who served 20-30 years, dedicated to the community.
Q: Is the job still rewarding?
B: Oh yeah, you go out and when you're able to help somebody there's satisfaction in that. When there's a fire the smart people are running out of the building we're running in. Being able to do it, and do it safely, we've been fortunate over the years we've never had any serious injuries — some minor ones — it can be a fairly hazardous occupation.
Q: You're only 2.5 years from your dad's 45-year record with the department, will you beat that?
B: I don't know if I'll exceed his record, we'll just have to see how it goes. The record isn't something I think about. After 25 years in the big seat, as a department I think we've accomplished a lot and a lot of it has to do with the support of the members and our families.