Tragic Events at Helliwell Bluffs

On the afternoon of  Saturday,  May 19, we were called to Helliwell Park. We arrived on scene at the bluffs to find a motionless patient at the bottom of an overhanging 15-20 meter cliff. While we rigged our rope systems to get our team to the patient, two civilian first aiders were able to get to the patient from the water via private boats. They found the patient unresponsive, with no pulse and began CPR.

The Canadian Coast Guard was dispatched from French Creek and arrived just after the Fire Department team got to the patient. The rescuers at the bottom of the bluffs, with a belay from the team at the top, were able to transfer the patient to the Coast Guard boat on which she was transported to Tribune Bay to the waiting Air Ambulance crew. Sadly, the rescuers were never able to restore a pulse despite administration of CPR and the use of an automated external defibrillator.

Witnesses say that she had been walking to the lookout near the edge of the cliff when she appeared to bend over to pick something up and fell over the edge. Our thoughts and hearts go out to friends and family affected by this tragic accident. HIFR is very appreciative of the help given by the two responders from Bowser, the impressive response from the Coast Guard and BC Air Ambulance, and the coordination from the RCMP.

New Techniques

Firefighters are conditioned to reach for the water as soon as they arrive on scene. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Put water on the fire and it goes away. 5 of us went to a course last weekend where the instructor made a pretty convincing case that the ventilation fan should be the first thing off of the truck. The Comox Valley Chiefs Association brought in the guru of a technique that is quickly taking hold called “positive pressure attack”. Kriss Garcia has been championing, honing, and researching PPA for over 20 years now.

The idea goes like this. Fire is predictable and can be extinguished. Smoke, on the other hand, will obscure any visibility, will kill occupants, and can explode if conditions are right. If you can create an exhaust hole, and turn on a large fan at the front door you can clear the smoke and reduce the temperature in the building in just a few seconds. Firefighters can then enter a building and search for occupants and the fire by walking through the building instead of crawling.

Kriss has disproven many myths put forward by people wary of PPA. He has shown that blowing the smoke and heat through the building will not advance the fire. Firefighters that are caught between the fire and the exhaust hole feel no increase in heat. Positive pressure will not blow fire into electrical outlets or holes in the wall.

We’re very excited to try out this new technique in our upcoming practices. Its not everyday that you learn something that turns a whole industry’s methodology on its head.

Search and Rescue Update

Hornby Island Fire Rescue, along with many other community members, has been involved in an intense ground search for Orlando Graham. The RCMP, 442 Squadron from CFB Comox, Canadian Coast Guard. the Rescue Coordination Center in Victoria, Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue, and many other Search and Rescue (SAR) groups from Campbell River to Cowichan, have been searching the water and land since Wednesday night. At times there were upwards of 75 people working within the organized search plan and countless others searching on their own.

The response from the Hornby Island community has been every bit as generous as we’ve come to expect. The various SAR teams have been astounded by how well our island has looked after them and supported their efforts. We’re extremely proud of our island and particularly proud of our Fire Department. Our members absolutely shone in their assigned tasks, demonstrating professionalism, passion, and dedication to the job.

We can’t thank enough everyone who helped out, but there were some standouts. Valerie Pagnier came 4 times with batches of fresh baking and Mia Wood made lunch for 40 people. Rachelle Chinnery and Theresa Hamilton did a search detail, then worked the rest of Thursday and Friday coordinating food and coffee. Ian Emberton took time away from the new twins to transport food and to make a batch of cookies. Many other Islanders patiently waited to be assigned a search team and then diligently carried out their task.

Wilson Curry worked tirelessly all Thursday doing several search details. Then at the end of the day slipped on a rock and badly sprained his ankle. We wish him a speedy recovery and thank him for his hard work.

At this time the command structure of all of the involved organizations agree that any location where Orlando would be if he was injured or needing help has been exhaustively searched by both people and 4 dog teams. There is, however, no conclusive evidence to indicate what has happened to him. Please have a good look in any of your outbuildings, cabins, or structures.

The off island SAR teams have left and aren’t expected to return unless additional information or clues emerge. The RCMP will continue to comb the coastline from the water as well as exploring other investigative avenues. The Fire Department has stood down but is ready to start it all over again if something comes up.

All of our members, as well as the community at large, are extremely saddened by Orlando’s disappearance. Our hearts go out to Veronica, Renaud, and the rest of Orlando’s family.

Chief Giff LaRose
Deputy Chief Doug Chinnery

If you have any concerns or questions about the search please contact Doug at 218-9156 or Giff at 335.1115. We are happy to provide any information that we can.

New Firehall Update

The existing firehall is in danger of collapsing in the event of an earthquake. If disaster were to hit this area, it would be very important that we would be able to access the emergency vehicles instead of having to excavate them from the rubble. We also need more space for another truck and, due to the topography of the land, there is very little space to expand the truck bays.

After several engineering reports and reviews of the needs of the fire department were completed the CVRD had determined that a new fire hall was the preferable solution. A chunk of land across the road from the existing fire hall was identified as a suitable location and the process was set in motion to acquire this land. First Nations were consulted and the Integrated Land Management Bureau was involved. After 2 years of bureaucracy early this year we got the approval to use that land.

The plot of land is now staked out and flagged. If anyone wants to take a look it’s right across the road from our current fire hall.

The next steps are the budgeting process and the design. The CVRD has come up with a plan that will pay for the new fire hall by increasing property taxes by $.15 per $1000 of accessment. That will shake out to a $75 increase for a $500,000 property.

For the engineering reports, the budget documents, minutes from the committee meetings, and other documents relating to the new fire hall project Click here.

HIFR Participates in Multi Agency Exercise

Hornby Island Fire Rescue sent Deputy Chief, Doug Chinnery, to participate in a large exercise that took place in Oyster River. The operation was to simulate a wildfire that was approaching a rural subdivision. Several area fire departments took part as well as the RCMP, BC Ambulance, Emergency Social Services, BC Department of Forests, 19 Wing CFB  Comox, and Comox Valley Search and Rescue. The fire departments’ involvement was a 1 day classroom and practical training session on Saturday followed by more classroom time on Sunday morning before the actual exercise on Sunday afternoon.

This weekend was of particular interest to HIFR as Hornby Island falls entirely into the wildland urban interface zone and we are at least 2 hours away from any outside help. If there was ever a wildland fire on Hornby, the fire department would be on our own in managing property protection for quite a while.

It was a very well run course and the exercise itself provided much additional insight into how to better protect the Hornby residents and their property from wildland fires.  Thanks to Niels Holbek, Chief of Oyster River Fire Rescue for his invitation and his hospitality.

Car Fire Practice

Patrick works the nozzle on the initial attack

We don’t get very many car fires here on Hornby. In fact there hasn’t been one since I joined the department. Despite their infrequent occurance, extinguishing them safely is a skill that we like to keep up on. To that end we have constructed a prop which is a stripped minivan that we can pack full of wooden pallets and set on fire.

Newer cars present many challenges for fire suppression:

  • Bumper struts can explode shooting a bumper into a firefighter’s knees.
  • Air bags can explode with shrapnel.
  • Hatchback struts can explode and shoot a metal rod like a crossbow bolt.
  • Newer cars have plastic fuel tanks which can drop off of the car and melt releasing gasoline onto the ground.

The team moves in under protection of a wide fog to kill the fire
Working in teams of three, firefighters approach the vehicle from the side or corner dumping as much cooling water onto the flames and under the car as possible. When they get close they open the nozzle pattern to a fog to protect them from the heat of the fire. Once at the car, the nozzle pattern gets narrowed again to fit through the window and extinguish the fire.

Galleon Tank in Service

The tank at the bottom of Sollans had its plumbing completed last week and the Chief was able to fill it by pumping it full of groundwater. That leaves only the tank at the top of Euston Road to be completed before all of our new tanks are in service.

For a list of all of our tanks have a look at the water supply page.

Periwinkle Tank Now in Service

Jed has finished with the plumbing on another water supply tank, we have pumped it full of water, and it’s now ready to be used. Sure, the landscaping leaves a bit to be desired, but that will get fixed up when the ground dries out a bit. We’ve been really lucky that there has been enough groundwater near the new tanks that we have been able to pump directly into the tanks instead of shuttling 15 loads per tank from the fire hall.

View Larger Map

The next tank to come on line will be at the corner of Sollans and Brigantine. The ground is pretty wet there right now, so we’re hoping that we can fill it with the portable pump as well. Stay tuned.