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Remote northwest B.C. community left without a fire department due to volunteer shortage

Almost 200 homes in Dease Lake will have to fend for themselves in case of fire
Rick Boehm, Thornhill and regional district fire chief, with the department’s new ladder truck. (File photo)

If a house fire sparks in Dease Lake, who will come when someone calls 911?

That’s the question likely on residents minds after the local fire department was forced to shutter its doors last week due to a lack of volunteers.

Fire protection is now suspended in the remote northwest B.C. community, about seven hours drive north of Terrace toward the Yukon. For almost 200 homes this means having to fend for themselves in case of fire.

Rick Boehm, fire chief with the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine (RDKS), said they need to fill and train at least 15 positions in order to re-launch operations and be in compliance with provincial requirements.

Dease Lake was left with a single firefighter after the majority of volunteers suddenly left the community.

“It’s a very transient population up in Dease Lake and what happened is we had a significant amount of them this year transfer out of community, which left the gap so quickly that we couldn’t recover,” Boehm said.

“That’s what caught us off guard this year.”

An outreach session in Dease Lake saw eight volunteers signed up and ready to start training. While the fire chief can’t yet say when services will return, he’s optimistic.

“People are stepping up, and now we just have to get them trained so that we can turn that switch back on.”

In the meantime, residents are being sent fire safety information packages with advice on how to avoid property fires and what to do if a blaze does spark. Most of the homes in the area use a mix of wood stoves and propane heating with no natural gas options, which makes them more prone to fires.

The brochures include guidance for residents to bolster their fire prevention and create ‘get out alive’ plans with important tips on managing fire detection systems effectively this fall.

“There is a significant risk to potential insurance recognition. We’re hoping to head that off with a quick return to service,” said Boehm, adding that spending 20 minutes on fire prevention “could be the make or break.”

It’s crucial that chimneys be properly inspected and swept, Boehm said, adding that having an on-hand fire extinguisher and working smoke alarms “plays a huge part.”

Boehm said there’s growing pressure on volunteer fire departments to keep up with calls for service.

“All options are on the table to fix this situation and it’s not isolated to just our remote community of Dease Lake. This is a huge problem and we’re hopeful we can turn this one back around,” he said, adding that his team at the Thornhill Volunteer Fire Department near Terrace is also in dire need of new recruits.

“We’re not seeing a decline as in Dease Lake, but we are definitely seeing some pressure on the current volunteers as to whether or not they can sustain the current call volumes.

“We’re also trying to seek at ways at mitigating or heading off any potential volunteer decline in our area.”

Boehm hopes more residents will put their names forward to volunteer with their local fire departments, but would-be volunteers should know there are training requirements.

Residents can continue to contact BC Ambulance and the RCMP in case of emergency. The BC Wildfire Service will also continue to respond to wildfires in the area.


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