Firefighters staying out of the brush
Victoria chief says brigade will no longer risk personnel, equipment to fight forest, brush fires
If the provincial fire commissioner’s office wants to consider members of the Victoria Volunteer Fire Department as “structural firefighters,” that’s just fine, says Chief Jim Layden.
As such, the brigade, with the support of the Victoria town council, has decided it will no longer put its volunteers and equipment at risk in order to fight brush and forest fires.
They plan to leave that job up to those better equipped and trained for the task — firefighters with the provincial Department of Natural Resources.
If called to such emergencies, Layden said, “we will respond to the nearest property and set up there to protect the citizens of Victoria. If we can reach the blaze with a water cannon, we will fight it, but we are no longer prepared to go dragging heavy hoses through the woods.”
The department’s recent decision was sanctioned at the May 16 town council meeting.
Layden told The Compass last week his department gets called to a dozen or so brush and grass fires in the summer and fall.
“ We’ve already had one brush fire so far this year,” Layden noted. upon to fight a lot of these types of fires.
Fighting forest fires often entails having to drag heavy fire hoses through thick woods, while wearing heavy bunker gear.
Under the circumstances, Layden said, “ heat exhaustion is a real concern for firefighters.”
According to the chief, they have been unsuccessful in getting the green light for “no max coveralls,” the type of lighter clothing worn by provincial forestry firefighters.
When they looked into it, Layden said they were told they were considered “structural firefighters.”
CBN Joint Councils agreed to include a request from the Victoria Volunteer Fire Department for “no max coveralls” in their letter to the provincial fire commissioner’s office.
Layden said last week he hasn’t heard anything from Joint Councils about it since that meeting.
— Victoria Fire Chief Jim Layden
Heat exhaustion a concern
After smouldering just beneath the surface for some time, the issue first ignited in April when Layden told a CBN Joint Councils meeting in Carbonear his department is called
Risk to equipment
Aside from the personal safety concern, the department has also lost expensive fire hose in forest fires.
“If our fire hose gets destroyed in a forest fire, forestry won’t replace it,” Layden said.
The volunteer fire department or the town ends up holding the bag. And Victoria Mayor Arthur Burke pointed out, “ fire hose is not cheap to replace.”
Meanwhile, Layden said, “if we only have to put out one or two lengths of fire hose (to fight a grass or brush fire) we don’t mind doing that. But we’re not going dragging hose through the woods anymore — it’s too heavy and too hard.”
Because Victoria is surrounded by woods, Layden noted they get calls to brush and forest fires on a regular basis.
From now on, he said they will be calling the on-duty officer at forestry or the RCMP.
He said it takes forestry officials about 25 minutes to get to Victoria from their base in Trinity Bay.
The emergency number to report fires to the Victoria Volunteer Fire Department is 5962424.
The forest fire season on the island of Newfoundland runs from May 1 to Sept. 30. The toll-free number to report a forest fire anywhere in the province is 1-866-709-3473(FIRE).