The Mill Bay Fire Department is the first hall in the Cowichan Valley that has adopted a blended staffing model, made up of both career and volunteer firefighters.
Mill Bay responds to about 365 calls a year, the second highest call volume in the Cowichan Valley after the South End Fire Hall in North Cowichan.
Chair of the Mill Bay Fire Protection District David Slade said it was a necessity to move to this staffing model.
“We just realized that the time was coming when there would be a major incident; a fire, or a motor vehicle accident, when our services were desperately needed and we would not be able to provide them,” said Slade. “We have leaned on our mutual aid partners (Malahat, Shawnigan Lake, and Cowichan Bay), but during the day they have challenges with manpower too and they’re reluctant to leave their area.”
A full-time Fire Chief, Training Officer, and Maintenance Firefighter are the career positions and Slade believes that other Cowichan Valley fire departments are going to move to this model.
Halls in Langford, Sooke, and Saltspring Island are also using a blended system.
Slade said hiring these “career” firefighters internally was a good way to avoid conflict between members.
“One of the difficulties with going to a blended or composite department is the potential for conflict between career members and volunteer members,” said Slade. “We felt the best way to smooth that transition was to have our career members have a history of volunteers and will continue to be volunteers because they’re people that live within our area.”
Slade said it’s one thing to get other fire halls to help respond to major issues, but when they have to help respond to minor incidents, it takes emergency services away from other communities.