The Oak Bay Fire Department has a long history of giving back to the community and is now building on that tradition with the establishment of a registered charitable foundation.
The firefighters were granted charitable status last month and are excited that the new designation will improve the way they serve the community through their volunteer efforts. “We’re a professional department, but we volunteer a lot of hours to give back to the community.” said Greg Swan, the Executive Director of the Oak Bay Fire Fighters Charitable Society. “This is going to make us even more effective in that volunteer work.”
That’s not to say that the firefighters haven’t been effective in their past fundraising activities. In fact, their efforts have demonstrated a remarkable connection to the community they serve.
One example of that service came at the very beginning of 2012 when the firefighters operated a Christmas tree recycling program. It was the 15th year for the project which managed to raise $3,200. The money was put back into the community – recycled, so to speak – through a series of $500 scholastic bursaries awarded by the firefighters to students of Oak Bay High.
Last November the firefighters joined the Movember movement and grew mustachios (and collected donations) for prostate cancer research and education. They raised $6,500 during that campaign.
And it’s not always just about money. The Kiwanis tearoom project was taken on by the firefighters, who volunteered their off-hour time and labour to repair the leaking windows at the Willows Park tearoom. They also installed insulation and vapour barrier to the iconic location.
“Our major fundraising, though, has been done through cooperation with the three other professional fire departments of Saanich, Victoria and Esquimalt,” said Swan. “We’ve done some tremendous work together.”
The firefighters cooperate to coordinate several major fundraisers and then donate the money, primarily to four major charities, said Swan. In 2011, the Professional Firefighters of Greater Victoria Community Foundation, of which the Oak Bay firefighters are members – Swan sits on its board – pledged $250,000 over 10 years to Victoria General Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.
“We’ve also made ongoing contributions to the Mustard Seed (Food Bank) in April, when we bought them a cube van to help in food distribution,” said Swan. “We’ve set up the ‘Firefighters for Fox’ to support the Terry Fox Foundation and the guys shave their heads for donations. Last year we gave over $8,000 to that cause.”
And of course the firefighters contribute to the Firefighters Burn Fund.
All this fundraising is accomplished through an assortment of large events organized by the four participating groups of firefighters in the Greater Victoria area.
“Once a year some of our guys strap on the skates to play past NHL greats in an old timers hockey game,” said Swan. “We also put on a magic show (with professional magicians) and in December we join with firefighters from the mainland to host the Bright Lights in Stanley Park.”
The Stanley Park event sees firefighters from across the Lower Mainland and the Island set up and take down a display of lights that involves more than a million lights. It’s a daunting task, said Swan, but it’s a great family event and has the added bonus of raising even more money for the charitable work of the firefighters.
Another project, the annual ‘boot drive’ raises money for Muscular Dystrophy Canada. That drive raised nearly $65,000 on lower Vancouver Island in 2012. Since 1991 that drive has raised more than $1.2 million.
“It’s all about giving back to the communities that we live and work in,” said Swan. “And now that we have our own charitable status, we’ll be able to do even more.”
The establishment of the Charitable Fund will allow the firefighters of Oak Bay to accept larger individual and corporate donations and issue tax receipts for charitable donations to their foundation. “It’s just taken us to the next level,” said Swan. “We want to keep giving back to the community and this gives us the chance to do it more effectively.”
For more information on the charitable work of the Oak Bay firefighters, go to oakbayfirefighters.com.