By Lyonel Doherty
Last year’s 205 calls represented a record for the Oliver Fire Department, as far as Chief Bob Graham can remember.
“That is the most the fire department has ever had,” he said during his annual report to Town council last week. Graham said the department attended 15 structure fires, 18 brush fires, nine vehicle fires, 18 ambulance assists, 28 motor vehicle accidents, 57 direct alarms, and 60 miscellaneous calls, such as flood assessment, river rescues and smoke sightings.
Of the 205 calls, 89 were in town, 81 occurred in the rural area, and 35 took place on Osoyoos Indian Band land.
Graham reported they have 33 members including seven officers. This past year the department added three new members.
He was proud to report that 28 members achieved their certificates for interior firefighting (fighting structure fires from the inside).
“I’m very pleased with the progress that we’ve had,” Graham said, noting that Oliver firefighters have the same qualifications as regular, full-time firefighters.
He pointed out that 12 members received certification for fire instructor, and all of the officers have completed and received certification as Fire Officer 1.
“I’m very pleased with our response time and number of members who respond to calls,” Graham said. “It’s way above average for most departments of our size.”
Graham explained they are not a full-time paid department, meaning that no one sits at the hall waiting for calls.
“But we respond as quickly as those who do.”
The chief said the hall does not intend to become a first responders department, however, members often assist in medical calls, helping paramedics with patients.
Graham said members are tasked with traffic control because there is often a shortage of RCMP on scene.
Once again, the Oliver Fire Department will host the BC firefighters seminar on May 1-3, when more than 350 firefighters come here to hone their skills and techniques.
Graham pointed out that most of the instructors at this seminar are Oliver firefighters, which speaks to their level of expertise.
“Our best day is somebody else’s worst day,” the chief said.
He noted that Oliver members are involved in 16 different community events every year.
In reviewing the annual report, Councillor Dave Mattes pointed to a call where only one firefighter attended.
“Was he the only one qualified to handle burnt toast?”
After a moment of laughter, Graham responded, “Yes, I was (which prompted even more laughter).”
Graham said if people have a company that monitors their alarms, they should ensure they have the correct address and inform the company immediately if it’s a false alarm, such as burnt toast.
“We don’t want our members leaving work unless it’s necessary. Work is very important, and we have a lot of really good employers that allow our members to take time off work in the middle of the day (to respond to emergencies). We don’t want to abuse that privilege.”
Mayor Martin Johansen thanked Graham for the professionalism he brings to the department.
He noted this department saves a lot of money by conducting in-house training instead of sending members out of town.
Graham agreed, adding they have taken a different road by training their own members.