I think it was the spring of 1995 when I first met Albert.
He walked into the office at the old hall and we introduced ourselves.
Here was this cheerful man with a totally open demeanor and big, very genuine smile.
I liked him immediately.
Albert explained how he and his wife Gail were having a log house built on Broadview.
We discussed the state of fire protection on Gabriola including the criteria for becoming a volunteer.
He told me he was semi-retired as an electrical engineer, and they wouldn’t be full time on the island for a few years yet.
We spent about a half hour talking over various aspects of island life, and when he left, I really felt like I made a new friend.
And I had.
Some time after that, Albert came to the hall and told me that he had enrolled at UBC, intending to earn another degree in the somewhat related field of fire protection engineering.
He asked if it would be OK if he did his thesis on the subject of fire protection on Gabriola.
I was somewhat stunned, but elated, and offered the fire department’s help.
What an opportunity for the community, I thought.
Hiring a company to complete such a study would have cost tens of thousands of dollars, and here Albert was offering it for free!
During the time he was earning his degree, he submitted his name and was elected to his first term as a trustee for the Gabriola Fire Protection Improvement District, which is the board of trustees that has oversite responsibility for the fire department.
This is a position he held for more than 18 years.
When completed, his thesis became the basis of the long term plan for fire protection on the island.
Many of the improvements that came about, such as replacing the aging firehall, were identified in his study.
By following that plan, our department evolved to the point where in 2007 we were confident enough to challenge the insurance underwriters’ testing procedures.
We were successful, and earned the Superior Shuttle Tanker Accreditation, which involves delivering firefighting water using tanker trucks, instead of pipes in the ground and fire hydrants like cities do.
We were the second volunteer fire department in western Canada to earn this fire insurance rating. The residential insurance savings more than cancelled out the cost of the fire department taxes.
Five years later, we recertified, and were the first volunteer department In western Canada to earn most of our commercial properties owners a similar savings on their insurance premiums.
Our firefighters’ ability to succeed at these accomplishments were made possible to an enormous degree, by Albert’s contributions.
During the early years of his fire protection engineering career, there was an expolsion of marijuana grow-op fires in BC.
Albert was called upon to investigate the cause in many notable cases.
A common factor that he discovered in many of these fires was improper electrical installations, specifically operating too many grow lights on improperly fused circuits.
When the system was wired correctly the fuse would blow, and it wasn’t a problem.
If incorrectly wired, power might arc and start a fire.
Albert thought we should make this common knowledge in the community, via our island’s excellent rumour mill, in hopes of averting any future fires here.
We have had very few grow-op fires over the years, so I like to think Gabriola’s clandestine grow operations took this advice and were safely constructed.
Physically, Albert was not a big man, a fact that never seemed to cause him the slightest bit of consternation.
He would be the first to tell stories and make light of his size.
He liked to claim I wouldn’t let him join as a firefighter because he was too small.
The truth is he never even applied, but that didn’t stop him from telling that story to irk me.
Practical jokes were a special enjoyment of Albert’s, but he never played mean jokes.
Albert was an exceptionally kind and patient man.
It never failed to amaze me how he maintained his dignity in all kinds of extremely trying situations.
I would sometimes ask myself “what would Albert do?” when I was in a situation where my preferred course of action might have involved strangulation.
His dedication to the firefighters was almost legendary.
Whenever Albert was driving and saw the fire trucks were out on a call, he would stop by the hall and make sure all the firefighters’ vehicles had the lights shut off, as in the past, people quickly responding to a callout had returned to find problems like dead batteries.
He always thought of others.
Albert may have been a small man, but to me — he was one of the biggest people I have ever met in my life.
His kindness, his generosity, his dedication and support of good causes in his communities- and he did operate in many communities, both professionally and privately, these are things I will always remember Albert for.
With the intention of keeping the memory of Albert’s community spirit alive, on behalf of our trustees and firefighters, it is my honour to announce that we will be renaming No. 1 Firehall the Albert J Reed Memorial Firehall.