North Saanich firefighter extinguishes pandemic fears with 166 paintings – and counting

Anna never expected to find herself on this path, which began at a party with a dare.

“The discussion was that there were no females in the department and ‘Why don’t you do it?’” Anna recalls being asked before the person she was talking to added: “I dare you!”

When Anna was younger, she’d wanted to be a hippie and was then working as a hairstylist. She was being dared to become a firefighter.

When I ask how she responded to such a remarkable dare, she answers with a laugh: “I signed up!”

Not only did she sign up to become a firefighter, Anna did all the training.

“I’ll do a dare!” Anna smiles. “I’m always up for a challenge.”

Anna became the first female firefighter in the department, launching a 30-year career.

“I’ve just always loved it,” she says matter-of-factly.

Which brings us back to this path she’s walking along, and an expression of love (a sign with a heart) that Anna felt inspired to paint and post on a fence at the start of the pandemic.

“It was for all the essential workers,” she says. “To say thank you.”

But as COVID-19 kept up, Anna kept close to home, and kept on painting signs.

“And my sense of humour is a little bit off,” she smiles.

She started hanging her silly signs along the fence between her house and a public path that leads to the Patricia Bay beach along West Saanich Road.

One of the signs shows two dogs – one has a cone around its neck and the other is wearing the cone around its backend. The dog says, “Sorry, I’m socially distancing.”

“It’s OK if you fall apart,” Anna reads another brightly painted sign. “Tacos fall apart and we still love them.”

Another sign which features a picture of a UFO asks, “What if this quarantine is just aliens fattening us up for the big harvest?”

“If you say gullible really slowly it sounds like oranges,” Anna reads before turning to me and smirking as I start saying the word slowly.

“To just hear the laughter [of people passing the signs] has been amazing,” Anna says, adding that sometimes the laughing is so loud she can hear it inside her house.

The positive response inspired Anna to paint 166 signs – and counting.

When the pandemic is finally over, she’s planning to sell all the paintings and donate the money to the local food bank.

Which brings us back to why Anna followed through with that dare. More than battling flaming foes, or operating monstrous trucks, Anna says she found firefighting is about one thing.

“The first word that comes to mind is empathy,” Anna says. “I like people and I want to help people.”

Just as she’ll pick-up a hose and run towards the danger the rest of us flee from, when the pandemic hit, Anna picked up a brush and attempted to extinguish our fears with a little fun.

“In such an icky time, I wanted to bring a little joy.”