Firefighting for the 21st century

The Oak Bay Fire Department has served the local community from its Monterey Avenue hall since 1938

Oak Bay Fire Chief Dave Cockle has seen many changes in his more than 28 years with the local department.

Jennifer Blyth

Oak Bay News

When Oak Bay firefighters closed King George Terrace recently as they worked to keep sky-high flames from a hedge fire from igniting nearby homes, they took to Twitter to alert residents.

It’s a communications tool their counterparts who founded the department some 77 years ago couldn’t even have imagined.

Established in 1938 with a chief and 10 firefighters, today the Oak Bay Fire Department employs 25 career firefighters and two support personnel from the fire hall at 1703 Monterey Ave.

Beyond communications, the role of firefighters has changed a lot over close to eight decades as well. In addition to their roles in fire prevention and suppression, Oak Bay firefighters are all trained as first responders and are instrumental to public safety and first aid.

“The department is extremely well-trained. All of the members can operate every piece of equipment in the department and they can provide first aid services for anybody at any time,” says Fire Chief Dave Cockle.

Cockle has spent his entire 28 1/2 years as a firefighter with the Oak Bay department, the last 2 1/2 as chief.

Technology aside, significant changes have also come in firefighters’ health and wellness. Today, members identify opportunities through fitness, nutrition and mental health to offset identified occupational risks for issues such as cancer and heart disease, Cockle explains.

The results of the initiative have been seen each month in the Oak Bay News as members share their favourite recipes, workouts and wellness strategies.

On the job, measures include precautions for homes suspected of having asbestos, to minimize any exposure firefighters have to the harmful fibres.

Emergency preparedness is another area of growth for the department. Just as the social media allows the department to connect with local residents in the case of an emergency, the Internet also connects locals with people and events around the world, and that has had a significant impact on emergency preparedness.

People can see immediately the devastation that follows a major earthquake, for example, and that can prompt them to prepare themselves and their families.

“People are more aware of what the risks are,” says Cockle, also president of the BC Earthquake Alliance.

But perhaps one of the biggest evolutions in the department over the decades is its connectedness with the community. Today, the Oak Bay Fire Department is a very visible part of the community, a measure emphasized by Cockle’s predecessor, Gerry Adam, and continued by Cockle himself. “We are a more community-based department than we ever were,” Cockle reflects.

“We think it’s very important the community has involvement with the fire department so the first time you meet us is not when you need us.”

That means welcoming residents of all ages to the annual Halloween bonfire, having officers and information at the Oak Bay night markets, visiting schools, community groups and seniors’ residences, working on emergency preparedness and hosting a wide variety of events through the Oak Bay Fire Fighters Charitable Foundation (see related story page A9), for example.

Red Cross-certified firefighters also volunteer to teach four-hour CPR courses with Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) certification at the fire hall for groups of five to 20 students.

“We are involved in all aspects of the community and I think that’s key to what the public expects,” Cockle says, commending not only the community for its support, but also the firefighters themselves. “The biggest piece to this department is that the members’ connect to the department, to the residents and to the community as a whole.”