After nearly a decade working in the community, Campbell River Fire Chief Thomas Doherty will be moving on to the same role in Whistler.
Doherty started in Campbell River in 2013. At the time, he was a deputy chief, having moved from a similar position in Kelowna.
“It’s been a good number of years,” he said. “It’s a great team here in the fire department. I’m sad to leave. I’ve made a lot of good friendships and those are going to continue on.”
Over the years, the community’s growth has been one of the biggest challenges for the fire department. Doherty said that while there has been some progress at maintaining coverage in all parts of the city 24/7, there is still some growth that is needed.
“There are a lot of dynamics here and a lot of challenges for a city this size. The number of fires is quite high,” he said. “One of the bigger challenges that is going to face the community going forward is the amount of growth that has occurred. We’ve made some progress with staff resources over the last couple of years in the south.”
He said one of the priorities for his successor should be to get staffing levels up so there’s 24/7 coverage at the south hall.
Despite their differences in population, Doherty said there are some big similarities between Campbell River and Whistler, as far as fire protection is concerned.
“The department size is relatively similar, they have three stations there, there’s two here. They have a composite model with career and paid, on-call members,” he said. “The municipality in Whistler is fairly dense in population. The city of Campbell River is very linear. The boundaries here are quite long. The response matrix for protecting the city here is a bit more challenging, compared to up there.”
During his time in the Okanagan area, he also worked for the Big White Fire Department, which gave him experience that should be useful in the mountain resort town of Whistler.
“I’ve had experience in a resort community, working with snow,” he said. “It’s a very different lifestyle for sure and it has its own challenges with the weather and whatnot. It’s something that I’m accustomed to.”
Doherty’s time in Campbell River was also marked by COVID-19, which gave the fire department a chance to enhance their health and wellness program and grow into a more resilient system.
Besides the work aspect, Doherty is excited to get the chance to work in Whistler.
“I’m just looking forward to it. It is Whistler,” he said. “It has always been something that I’ve had my eye on. The timing was right this time and the opportunity to lead the fire service at a world famous resort.”
That being said, he is going to miss the landscape, the ocean and the people he has met and worked with over the last nine years.
“I’m going to miss the people,” he said. “The staff here are fantastic to work with. We had a really good relationship through the years. It’s really strong, made some really good improvements in the organization. I hope to see that continue here.
“Then of course there’s the ocean and the saltwater fishing, but I’ll be back.”
Doherty’s final day with the department is July 15. Deputy Chief Kelly Bellefleur will take over as acting chief until the city fills the vacancy on a more permanent basis.
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