From the May/June edition of the West Vancouver Beacon Newspaper
This past year, the entire globe has suddenly been tasked with the challenge of appreciating the simplest aspects of life. Thanks to the consistent dedication of our community health and safety officials, we have the privilege of knowing that in spite of COVID-19, local safety is consistently a priority.
In February of 2020, the local fire department unexpectantly became a large piece of my family’s life, when we lost our home to an electrical fire. Since then, I have been interested to hear more about the branch that we owe so much to. Deputy Fire Chief; Gord Howard of West Vancouver Fire and Rescue, Station 1, was kind enough to sit down and chat with me about what life looks like for their teams through COVID, and the various services WVFR provides within West Vancouver.
Originally a UBC Business major – turned rescue diver – turned firefighter, Gord Howard has served our community in West Vancouver Fire & Rescue for 31 years. A lifelong West Vancouver resident, Deputy Chief Howard is an integral member of our community. While training as a rescue diver and first responder, Howard came to realize that the majority of his classmates learning these skills intended to pursue a career within their local fire departments. After much consideration, he made the decision to pursue additional first aid become a firefighter. In his 3 decades of service, Deputy Chief Howard has climbed the ranks within the department and is now settled at WVFR’s central hub, Station 1.
Station 1 is home to the majority of WVFR’s equipment and resources, including the department’s tower and rescue trucks, engine crews, and a command unit. The department responds to a diverse range of calls, such as medical, public service, fire, and car accidents. Howard described West Vancouver Fire and Rescue as, “The department you call when you don’t know who else to call.”
In addition to Station 1’s resources, each of the 3 smaller facilities house an engine crew. An engine being what you would typically picture as a standard “fire truck.”
Following my family’s incident, I have found there to be an air of curiosity around residential structure fires. I inquired about the topic with Gord. He explained that for a home call such as mine, the standard initial dispatch includes 3 engines, a tower, and a duty chief.
When asked what he wishes the general public would know about WVFR and a career in firefighting, Deputy Chief Howard said this;
“I would love it if people knew that we are not only here to put out fires. It is quite a technical job that requires a lot of ongoing training and practice. All homes are different, all situations are different. (…) We see what we see and go from there. Whether it’s a fire call, tech rescue call, medical call, there are so many unknowns. We have to collect the information and make our decisions in very time-compressed ways in order to make a difference. I want people to know that we don’t just show up and put water on the fire, there is a lot more to it. It is understanding human behaviour, fire science, ‘Worksafe BC’ regulations, and the guidelines of how we can safely mitigate an incident while both keeping the public and our team members safe.”
When asked what the most rewarding part of working for WVFR is, he added;
“Being able to make a difference in the community. You don’t necessarily see that (hands-on firefighting) every day, but what I believe you do see every day is the community knowing that they are safe. To relate it to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we provide that sense of physical safety, which enables society to come together. Knowing that there is a police department and a fire department there to keep you safe definitely serves an overall lack of unease. You know if something happens, someone is going to come and help out. And then, when we are called to do so, we go to make a difference and be there in someone’s most difficult time, and help get them through it. It’s quite rewarding.”