Thetis Island Volunteer Fire Department’s annual photo. Top: Dave Tarris. Second row, from left: Mike Ellis, Quinn Nonay, Tom Milliken, Christian Zinser, Chad Kerr, Johnny Cullen-Keidann, Pierre Henry, Yuka Saito. Behind Flag: Jeannine Caldbeck, Peter Luckham. Kneeling: Brian Morita, Jeffrey Thudian. Inset, from left: Chris Call, Chris Fordham, Tim French, John Gall, Mark Lauzon, Michael Marini. (Photo by Matt Hess)

Thetis Island Volunteer Fire Department’s annual photo. Top: Dave Tarris. Second row, from left: Mike Ellis, Quinn Nonay, Tom Milliken, Christian Zinser, Chad Kerr, Johnny Cullen-Keidann, Pierre Henry, Yuka Saito. Behind Flag: Jeannine Caldbeck, Peter Luckham. Kneeling: Brian Morita, Jeffrey Thudian. Inset, from left: Chris Call, Chris Fordham, Tim French, John Gall, Mark Lauzon, Michael Marini. (Photo by Matt Hess)

Fire department role quite different on Thetis Island

Expanded duties include road rescue and medical emergencies

The Thetis Island Volunteer Fire Department is the ultimate example of volunteerism that stands out during National Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 4-10.

Being on an island creates a unique set of circumstances for a fire department that goes far beyond the norm and requires firefighters to be versatile in their training and possess a wide variety of skills.

“We’re the only agency here – no ambulance, no police, no doctor, no nurse, no clinic,” said fire chief Jeannine Caldbeck. “We get called for a lot of things other departments don’t get called for.”

There’s fortunately been no fires of significance since COVID, but the department is always ready to answer the call.

“Our medical response numbers are steady,” noted Caldbeck.

The fire department responds to all emergencies on the island – be it for fire, road rescue or medical – and evacuates patients via water taxi or helicopter.

A newly-expanded and renovated Central Hall, officially opened on Nov. 2 of last year, has been a huge boost to the TIVFD. Members of many Vancouver Island fire departments were on hand for the ceremony.

Retired Fire Chief Pete Rees and Marge Armstrong, widow of one-time Deputy Chief Harry Armstrong, officially uncoupled the hose, the ceremonial practice for the fire service comparable to a ribbon-cutting. Rees and Armstrong were the first chiefs on Thetis and built the original hall.

Related: Thetis Island celebrates opening of expanded and renovated fire hall

The expanded hall has extended the scope of the department even more which has particularly come in handy for the community during this COVID year.

“The fire department here supports or puts on the flu shot clinic here annually,” pointed out Caldbeck. “We invite the regular population in.

“We’ll run through over 100 people in maybe an hour and 20 minutes. Our residents show up sometimes with their arm already out of their jackets.”

It’s a quick process and the residents get a chance to socialize afterwards. “We offer a coffee service, too,” Caldbeck indicated. “Everybody visits and has coffee and donuts.”

The firehall will also serve as the polling station for Thetis for the Oct. 24 provincial election.

“We also have a very small, but emotional and well-attended flag ceremony on Remembrance Day to honour our veterans,” Caldbeck added.

It’s all part of a life on a small island where the fire department provides a focal point. Some have dedicated themselves to the cause for a long time and six members recently retired.

“We’re always looking for more recruits,” said Caldbeck, who came to the island in 1982, joined the department in 1996 and has been the chief since 2005.

She had no electricity in her home or telephone until 1996, one of the requirements.

“I was able to join and my daughter was old enough to leave at home if I went on a call-out,” Caldbeck explained.

She’s been active ever since and is a member of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C.

Even though Caldbeck is the one making the decisions as chief, “firefighting is a total team effort,” she conceded.

During Fire Prevention Week, the department will be continuing its awareness campaign through the Thetis Island Elementary School and community-wide later this month on Oct. 20 on earthquake preparedness during the Great B.C. Shakeout.

The school and the Forbes Hall Community Centre (currently under renovation) are the hubs of the community, but the fire department steps in for so many events such as the flu clinic and voting.

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Thetis Island Volunteer Fire Department fire chief Jeannine Caldbeck. (Photo submitted)

Thetis Island Volunteer Fire Department fire chief Jeannine Caldbeck. (Photo submitted)

Extensive training is done by Thetis Island Volunteer Fire Department members for all situations. (Photo submitted)

Extensive training is done by Thetis Island Volunteer Fire Department members for all situations. (Photo submitted)

Thetis Island Volunteer Fire Department members assist with the transport of patients on and off the island. (Photo submitted)

Thetis Island Volunteer Fire Department members assist with the transport of patients on and off the island. (Photo submitted)