In early April HIFR got word that Air Ambulance were ceasing night operations to Hornby Island due to safety concerns. We immediately realized the significant negative effect that would have on the well being of our community and got to work. When representatives of Helijet and BC Ambulance flew in to talk a week later, we not only had a solid plan, but we had already mitigated some of their concerns.
Three significant changes were made in the way that we’ve conducted night time helicopter operations:
We changed the landing zone location, which required fixing up an old access road.
We purchased 22 portable landing lights and are investigating funding to offset the significant purchase price.
We reprogrammed a number of our radios to better communicate with the incoming helicopter.
On our May 18 fire practice we did a trial run where we set up our new landing zone system.
Helijet was able to free up a helicopter just before midnight and flew up to check out our improvements. There are still a few tweaks to make the system better, but we’ve just received notice that night operations are back!
A good number of people helped make this happen:
Dan Hamilton had just done a full day of tree work when I called him to help remove a few trees from our access road. He didn’t hesitate to help and I met him 20 minutes later to start the work. Dan refused payment for that work.
Stani, our Depot Manager, let us dump several truck loads of slash from the clearing free of charge.
BC Ambulance and Helijet have been extremely responsive in helping us restore this important service. They gave us detailed guidelines, lent us landing zone lights, and have flown up here twice to help plan and test.
Chris Lefevre, who owns the land and built the airstrip, has been so incredibly generous with allowing us to not only use the airstrip, but has given us free reign to make changes to improve safety and access.
The firefighters of HIFR who gave up a weekend to clear the access road and haul away slash… and who also waited until past midnight on our practice night to get the pilot feedback… and who also will come out any day or night, no matter the time or weather, to set up the landing zone and shuttle medical crew and patient between the landing zone and the clinic.
Every year HIFR is asked to investigate several abandoned 911 calls. We’ve already done two this year. These are the most risky calls that we do and we sometimes flat out refuse to attend. We just never know what is happening. It could be a heart attack or a home invasion… A fire or a domestic dispute with a weapon.
Like many rural fire departments, one of the challenges that we face is finding the location of the people that we are trying to help. On a dark and rainy night a visible address sign where the driveway meets the road can make a big difference. You can imagine the difficulties that we encounter when we start down an unmarked driveway, then have to turn around when we realize that it’s not the correct location. This can cost valuable time when getting there as quickly as possible is of huge importance.
In January we did 14 calls and at least three of them were slightly delayed because of lack of address signage. Fortunately, the delays did not affect the outcome but we have been to calls where a similar delay would have had a big impact.
As far as signage goes, anything is better than nothing, but something visible at night can make a difference. Light coloured numbers on a dark background or reflective signs like those in the photo make our jobs so much easier. If you are land partners or have several houses on your property, then signage identifying each of the buildings helps us from taking the wrong fork in the road.
If you would like to order a reflective number sign please call the fire hall at 250.335.2611 and leave a message. Someone will get back to you. Clearly identifying your house reduces the stress for us in trying to get to the right location and increases the odds for a good outcome by getting us there more quickly.
The Hornby Island Fire Rescue cadet camp is a one day workshop where our firefighters teach important fire prevention, safety, and first aid skills. Lunch is provided and the camp is free of charge. All participants and their parents are invited back to the fire hall in the evening where the cadets will demonstrate the skills that they learned during the day.
You can also register your young firefighters by calling the fire hall at 250.335.2611 and leaving a message with the cadet’s name, age, and a contact phone number.
We got a call that began as a duty officer question about rescuing a dog over a cliff. Chief La Rose and Captain Chinnery went to the scene to investigate and discovered a pitbull about 25m down a 50m cliff. We did a general page to activate our members and put a rope rescue operation into effect.
We sent the chief over the edge with a “diaper harness” designed for a human and a few bits of rope and slings to make up a harness that would fit the pit bull. Apparently the dog was very happy to see Chief LaRose and the biggest challenge after securing the dog was that he wouldn’t stop licking the Chief’s face.
We were able to haul them back up to the top using our 5-1 haul system. Everyone was fine, including the dog, and we were able to make it back to our respective homes for New Year’s Eve dinners.
Donated buildings or “acquired structures” are a mixed blessing. On one hand they provide excellent experience and on the other, they are a tonne of work to make them safe enough to use for practice. Many departments don’t use them anymore, preferring to use concrete training structures. Here on Hornby, we have no such structure and are remote enough that getting to an off island facility is often impractical.
After ensuring that the building is safe, we start with a few weeks of practices using theatrical smoke to work on our search and rapid attack skills. Once everyone is familiar with the structure, and we have our apparatus and hose deployment honed, we do several practices where we light and extinguish small fires in the building.
The week before we are scheduled to burn it down we run a few evolutions of attacking a fairly large fire to simulate a “room and contents” fire. It is in those evolutions that we can really exercise our attack skills.
The weekend that we burn the building to the ground is the one that the public notices but is the least useful practice of the months of use that we have gotten out of the structure.
Thanks to Don Peterson for the photos and to Bill and Jae at the Four Corners property for donating this cabin to us.
The recent line of duty shooting of Lac-Simon police member Officer Thierry Leroux is a tragic event. HIFR sends condolences to his family, friends, and co-workers. While not an abandoned 911 call, it does highlight some of the dangers of walking into a domestic disturbance situation.
Here on Hornby Island, especially during the non-summer months, we have a very limited police presence. As a result, HIFR is occasionally called out to investigate abandoned 911 calls. If a 911 caller hangs up before the dispatcher feels that the situation is resolved, someone must attend the scene to ensure everyone is OK. Normally that is the job of the police, but since they are two hours away we sometimes get the call to “have a look”.
The RCMP tries to vet the call so that if there is an obvious threat they won’t put us in harm’s way, but it can be very hard to tell with just a hangup on the other end. Is the caller in the middle of a heart attack and unable to speak? Was the caller cleaning the phone and accidentally hit the 911 speed dial? Or is there a domestic disturbance and the caller was unable to get a message across?
It is an agonizing decision for the HIFR Duty Officer to refuse to attend the scene knowing that they could be putting themselves and the rest of the crew in peril but also knowing that a fellow islander could be in trouble. We have the right to refuse to attend these calls and sometimes make the decision to do so.
If you should accidentally make a 911 call, please do not hang up. Stay on the line and explain to the dispatcher what has happened. You will save several people a great deal of time and stress.