Campbell River firefighters, like the rest of us, had an interesting year in 2020.
After a relatively normal start, the crews have had to change almost everything about how they do their jobs. With safety as a main priority, firefighters had to shut down everything but their most basic of functions: protecting the people of Campbell River.
“It’s been a big change, both in the station and in public. The first few months, having nobody around downtown during the shut down, it was weird to see it so quiet around here. It has changed a lot of what we do,” said firefighter Scott Kratzmann.
“So many of the people we deal with in the public, everybody’s anxiety level is high,” he added. “You really notice it at scenes where everything seems to be heightened. Hopefully this brings us closer together, and if we get that vaccine quickly it could bring it back to normalcy.”
Fire chief Thomas Doherty told the Mirror that the department responded to 2,000 incidents this year. It was also the year that saw the highest dollar loss to fires in the city to date. Around $27 million was lost to fires this year in Campbell River, out of an estimated $355 million in property value that was considered at risk from fire. The high loss is partially attributable to an increase in commercial building fires this year.
While crews go out on calls every day, a few notable ones stand out in 2020. None was more impactful than the April 8 apartment fire that left 85 people without a place to live. That fire started at around 4:23 a.m., forcing those living there out into the early morning. A coordinated effort from multiple fire crews, paramedics, and Campbell River Emergency Support Services helped control the incident and find a temporary place to stay for the residents.
Other incidents of note include the fire at the Campbell River Walmart on Oct. 1, which was deemed an arson by Campbell River RCMP, who said the fire was started to cover the theft of over $5,000 worth of merchandise. The store was closed for weeks to ensure the safety of customers.
Miki’s Sushi restaurant also was subject to a fire in September. Other businesses in the building suffered some damage due to smoke and water, but the fire itself was contained to the restaurant. Fire crews were on scene for four to five hours initially, and had to return to the scene to put out a smouldering wall the next day.
On Dec. 12, a quick-thinking passerby helped a family out of a burning home on Murphy Street. Patty Westwood was driving by on her way to work when she saw the flames. She “slammed on [her] brakes, and just left [her] car running on the side of the road and kind of ran toward the house to make sure that everyone was getting out,” she said. Everyone did make it out, with one sent to hospital for smoke inhalation.
Campbell River fire also provided assistance on a major fire call in Oyster River on Canada Day. A fire ripped through a barn on a farm in the area, building to a rather spectacular fire that was caught on video by fire crews. No injuries were reported to either animals or humans. The area was located far from any hydrant, and crews had to shuttle water to the site, making it a long day for first responders.
Crews saw an increase in road rescue incidents, with 46 per cent more this year than in 2019. Most of these were along Highway 28 near Upper Campbell Lake and Highway 19 near Sayward. Incidents within city limits decreased by 9.8 per cent over 2019.
The area managed to avoid any wildfires of note this year, with one or two small fires early in the season in very remote areas. These were shortly dealt with by B.C. Wildfire Service.
Fire crews finished the year fairly quietly, with a tree chipping event held on Jan 2, with funds going to the B.C. Burn Fund. Though it has been a quiet few weeks, that can change at any time.
“Just keep fire safety in mind,” chief Thomas Doherty said to the Mirror earlier this year. “Fire safety is 365 days a year, and some of the fires that we’re going to are avoidable. You just have to be aware of your surroundings when you’re in the kitchen.”