Number of firefighters in Sooke lags behind population growth

Spare Sooke firefighter helmet as seen on June 1, 2021. (CTV News)

With more people making Sooke their home, the district’s fire department needs more firefighters to meet the growing demand for fire protection services.

The need for more on-call members comes at a time when the department has lost 11 firefighters to retirement in the past two years.

The number of firefighters who can be called upon when fire breaks out is currently eight full-time and 29 paid on-call firefighters.

“The community is growing rapidly and there’s been a number of changes with our members that have been with us for the last five years or more,” said Sooke Fire Department Chief Ken Mount. “It’s something I’ve gone through before and I see ourselves with the ability to climb out of this with a recruitment program.”

Mount says the Sooke Fire Department is a “combination” department that consists of a small number of full-time career firefighters and a larger number of paid on-call volunteers.

“Sooke has been in that position for several years now and we’re trying to grow on both ends of the service,” said Mount. “As we grow our paid on-call group, it requires more support from our career day staff to make sure we are getting the proper training looked after.”

Sooke’s fire chief says with the reduced number of firefighters on hand, the department is forced to rely on its mutual aid partners from East Sooke, Metchosin and Otter Point. It was the added strength from its mutual aid partners that helped extinguish the fire that destroyed the Island Shiners Distillery in May.

“The worst case scenario would be that we would have no additional support from our paid on-call group in the middle of the day,” said Mount. “That may mean there is only three of us on an engine dealing with a difficult situation until our mutual aid partners show up and we haven’t experienced that yet but that could be the end result if we don’t get ahead of any retention problems.”

In an effort to bolster its ranks, the Sooke Fire Department is actively recruiting new members. It has also asked Sooke council to allocate some of its COVID-19 restart funding to add one full-time firefighter.

“Right now, we are in an okay position but we are looking at it in an advanced planning perspective,” said Mount. “That’s while you’ll see some pretty aggressive recruitment campaigning leading in to next fall.”

The fire department is looking to recruit people who are willing to devote an average of 10 hours a week for ongoing training and to respond to emergency calls. Mount hopes that by recruiting now, the department will have no less than 12 new paid on-call members by late fall 2022.

“We will likely see an increase in call volumes because the trends are showing that,” said Mount. “We just have to make sure all emergency services are planning properly because we know the demands are there and we just don’t want to be playing catch-up consistently.”