Archive for Author Rick Jackson

About the Author: Rick Jackson
Gabriola Island's fire chief.
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The Great Outage of 2016

The alleged crane

The alleged crane

So, as of this writing, it appears to be settled. The tug towing the too tall crane on a barge that took out the power lines over Dodds Narrows did not drag an anchor and take out an undersea cable – and all of our phone and data lines. Those lines were overhead, and went crashing down along with our power lines

Nevertheless, it was a major awakening to everyone here, as every service on the island was affected. With landline phones not able to reach any off island numbers and many local numbers, and our notoriously inadequate local cell service further compromised by the power outage, people found their ability to reach out was non-existent for most part.

The partial solution that was able to be provided by the GVFD was to man the Firehall, 24 hrs a day until all the systems were up again. The firehall still had the radio communications to reach the dispatchers in Nanaimo, who would forward info as required to and from other agencies, such as the BC Ambulance dispatch. This of course, resulted in a situation were, as a last resort, someone would need to physically come to the Firehall to call for help.

We all owe a big thank you to Paul Giffin and Rich Williams, two of our Gabriola Emergency Communications group, who also work in alliance with the Coastal Emergency Communications group. They did the lions share of manning the hall for all these days and nights. The GEC radio room, established in the lower level of the new Firehall has proven to be a great asset for our community!

Now that things are back to normal, I think it would be a great time for the community to overview how people were affected, beyond the obvious, and see what practical solutions could be enacted to help improve the situation for the next time. A good start would be to learn about our Neighbourhood emergency planning and our Emergency Social Services programs. Neighbours helping neighbours. They have many thoughtful, time tested considerations on how to help survive more comfortably during such an episode.

We were lucky this time, as the weather was relatively warm. But that accident could have just as easily happened during a cold and blustery January storm, when helicopters couldn’t fly for a week or more, to repair the damage. We all need to be ready for that one.

Smoke investigation reveals structure fire

At 06:13 this morning a concerned citizen smelled smoke in the air and called 911 to report it. The duty officer responded to investigate, and was surprised to see a home with flames burning on the front deck. The duty officer yelled to wake up the family sleeping inside while attacking the fire with an extinguisher. The cause of the fire appears to have been a cigarette that was placed in a paint bucket filled with sand. Apparently the container wasn’t made of metal like all paint cans used to be, but made of plastic- which was a surprise to the home owner- as all that remained of it was the metal ring from around the top.

Thanks to the vigilance of a neighbour, the damage to the home was contained to a small area of the deck, and undoubtedly prevented a much more serious situation from evolving.image

Fire ban information clarification

My apologies to those who found this site confusing when searching for the current fire ban status. The notice of a fire ban being in effect was further down the thread than it perhaps should have been.

The level indicator to the right, currently in red and reading HIGH is hyperlinked, when you click on it it opens another page with the explanations. The current status indicating a ‘FIRE BAN IS CURRENTLY IN EFFECT’ is now more prominent.

As an FYI, we promptly remove the NO FIRE signs when the ban is rescinded, so, if they are up, the ban is still in effect.

This is the first year we have instituted a season long fire ban, and it appears the desired effect has been achieved. Burn complaints, rekindled fires and the attending costs appear to be down significantly. Most of the people I have talked to about this new policy agree that it makes sense, when compared with the previous method of banning and rescinding open burning based on a bit of rainfall. The cleaner air is also a nice payback in the view of many people as well.

Should you smell smoke, please investigate its source, as the recent structure fire could have been avoided if it had been detected an hour or so before.

While propane and briquet BBQs, hibatchis, and fireplaces are not included in the ban, they must be used with the utmost care and have fire precautions in place.

The fire hazard level and any prohibitions can also be heard by calling 250-247-9677 for the recorded message.

Thank you to all for your conscientiousness in helping to keep Gabriola safe!


Wildfire hazard rating escalates

As our island gets dryer, our wildfire hazard rating climbs, and further restrictions are enacted. At this writing we are at High Regular shift, but are anticipating a further raising of the hazard rating to High Early shift this week. All of the definitions and restrictions can be found on the wildfire hazard ratings of our website,

At these next higher levels ALL outdoor burning is banned, but propane and briquet BBQs and Hibatchis, as well as propane fireplaces ( 6″ flame maximum) are still allowed. Great care must be taken and fire fighting precautions must be at hand.

Most forms of powered equipment usage stops at 1 pm and a full hour of observation (watchman) is mandatory following any work.

If you spot a situation that concerns you, call the GVFD Duty Officer at 250-755-9289 in real time to investigate.

If you are not able to connect due to our poor cell service, call 911 and ask the operator to page the Gabriola fire department duty officer for you.

Should you see some idiot throwing cigarette butts from a vehicle, take down the license plate and car description, location etc, and report it to the RCMP ASAP.

While we await Emcon’s mower to arrive to cut the grass on the road sides, be aware that parking your vehicle in such dry grass could result in a serious fire from your hot exhaust. An exhaust system that is damages or even a trailer safety chain dragging on the ground can throw a shower of sparks as well, and numerous serious fires have been started in BC from these forms of carelessness over the years.

Carrying a dry chemical 5 lb. ABC fire extinguisher in your car during this dry season is a very good idea. (We sell good quality fire extinguishers at our cost at the firehall. Call us at 250-247-9677 if you’d like to buy one.)

Your actions could make the difference between a scary situation and a disaster. Always have someone call 911 and report a fire as soon as you see one – before deciding if it is safe to attempt extinguishing it. This gives an earlier heads up to us and gets our fire trucks rolling more quickly.

Gabriola’s safety is in all of our hands, and firefighters really appreciate your assistance.

No.1 firehall re-named in honour of Albert Reed

Albert J. Reed was involved with the Gabriola Fire Protection Improvement District for almost 20 years, 18 years as an elected Trustee.

During this time Albert semi-retired from his life long career as an internationally respected electrical engineer, specializing in high voltage and power technologies, and returned to University to earn a master’s degree in fire protection and chemical engineering.

His thesis for that degree was based on ‘Fire Protection on Gabriola’ and was to establish a long term plan for our department to follow.

By following that plan our department was able to develop into an outstanding example of community fire protection, becoming the second volunteer fire department west of Ontario to earn the Superior Tanker Shuttle accreditation. This means we have the equivalent to fire hydrants on every corner, but with the firefighting water delivered to the scene by tankers.

This status saves our residents more money in insurance premiums than they pay in fire protection taxes.

Five (5) years later we re-certified, this time becoming the first volunteer fire department west of Ontario to earn our commercial property owners a similar insurance savings.

Even though these unprecedented accomplishments were directly tied to the guidance he provided, Albert was never one to take the credit. He was truly a big picture guy who always championed the team effort.

Albert certainly was a people person. Throughout his life he constantly encouraged discussions that lead to more diverse points of view, often changing peoples perspectives and attitudes. Whether it was during his career involvement with B.C. Hydro, Ontario Hydro, the National Research Council in Ottawa, the Boy Scouts, his church, our Fire Department, or any of the other causes he donated his life to, he would persevere with his hallmark kindness to ensure the best possible outcomes manifested for every situation he was involved with.

He was sincere in his fondness for people and his belief in humanity, and this was, no doubt, why he was so willing to involve himself in situations others might shy away from.

His dedication to our department and to the firefighters, was well known. Often when a call-out was in progress he would drop by the hall, turning off any car lights or flashers that the firefighters may have left on in their haste to respond. Just another small example of his caring and helpfulness.

Today’s re-dedication of this hall is with the hope of keeping Albert’s humanitarianism alive in our consciousness, to encourage others to see life with his “glass half full” perspective, and to be reminded of his boundless optimism – not just within the Fire Department but throughout his life. On behalf of the firefighters, trustees, as well as everyone who knew and loved him, I am truly honoured to rename this building the Albert J. Reed Memorial Firehall.

No address sign? $1000 fine.

Effective immediately, the Regional District of Nanaimo will be levying a fine of $1000 against the title of any property that doesn’t have an adequate address sign displayed next to the property’s primary access point. ‘Adequate’ means visible day or night by a vehicle approaching from either direction.

Emergency responders have long spoken of the frustration of trying to find the location of situations they have been paged to attend to, often dangerously delaying help to those in need. Repeated requests in the media appear to have fallen on deaf ears, so this drastic measure has been invoked to ensure compliance.

We would like to thank RDN Area B director Howard Houle for his diligence in this matter and for ensuring that enforcement would begin by today.

About the search for Dave Hepper

The search and rescue (SAR) operation looking for Gabriola Island resident Dave Hepper ended last Wednesday, March 23rd. SAR command reported that the official search and rescue volunteers spent more than 1738 hours on this search. 112 of these hours were put in by Gabriola firefighers, who assisted search teams on the first evening until the early hours of Monday morning. Probably another 30+ hours were put in by GVFD members that is not reflected in that total.

SAR teams performed an intensive search over a wide area that was considered the most likely place for Dave to be found. They also searched many more places that were not-so-likely, but needed to be checked anyway.

These volunteer teams came to Gabriola to help in the search:

Up to 60 SAR personnel per day were involved in the search. Many island residents were also searching. These ‘convergent’ volunteers, as the non-SAR people are known, were mostly not registered and their hours not accounted for, but I believe the estimated 200 people would have accrued a much higher number of hours while searching. They were asked to not enter the primary grid search area and to concentrate on areas such as the 707 park. (Due to BC’s safety regulations, SAR members must take 100 hours of basic training courses before being able to participate in searches.)

The total man-hour figure does not include the time spent by the RCMP, helicopter and fixed wing searches, the harbour patrol boat and coast guard auxiliary that dropped off beach searching personnel. The aircraft and harbour patrol boats are equipped with the latest FLIR (heat detecting) cameras, which were used during the searches. Gertie volunteers assisted by driving searchers to the various areas that they were assigned to cover.

A team from Gabriola Emergency Social Services prepared many meals for the searchers in the fire hall kitchen over the 3 days, spending about 95 hours in the process. Food was also donated by Gabriolans to support the SAR teams.

This was probably the biggest inter-agency operation in Gabriola history.

In spite of the extensive search, much of it in heavy rain in the dark forest, Dave was not found by the searchers, but by friends the following day. Conditions had improved and the bright sunshine revealed his body about 40m off of a trail in an area that had been searched during the previous days. Search dogs had been deployed in the area but the heavy rains and prevalent human scent apparently covered the tracks.

Dave’s body was recovered on the evening of Thursday, March 24, bringing a sad end to this story. Based on evidence they compiled, the RCMP believes that Dave passed away early on Sunday, before the search had even started.

During a debriefing at SARs headquarters in Nanaimo on March 29, maps with all the GPS search tracks were shown to reveal the extent of the search – and the fact that searchers had come so close to Dave’s location without detecting him. A discussion of what went right – mostly everything – vs what didn’t revealed the depth of care these people extend to these endeavors. Their disappointment at the outcome was obvious.

What they also said at the debriefing revealed a lot about our community. They have never experienced the level of community support that they did here. From the food donated to various businesses not charging them for supplies to people paying for their meals in restaurants they were overwhelmed at the generosity. In spite of the sad outcome, we have a lot to be proud of as a community.

I would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to help search for our fellow islander.

A final note: the SAR team members who searched for Dave are volunteers. They spend a significant amount of time and effort in taking courses, practicing and developing search expertise… and, of course, using their skills when a search is needed. When they are called, they leave their homes, families, pets, and jobs, dropping everything to help as much as they can. As if that isn’t enough, they often have to do significant fund-raising to buy the equipment they need.

If you’d like to show your appreciation for the immense effort these teams made in coming to Gabriola and searching for Dave, please consider making a donation to help support them. Any funds you give will help to ensure that teams are properly equipped for future searches. The names of the SAR teams who helped us are above; click a team name to visit the team’s website, where you will probably see a donation link.

Our nearest search and rescue team and the lead agency in this search is Nanaimo Search and Rescue. Their website links to this page at Canada Helps, where you can donate, if you wish. A receipt for income tax purposes will be provided.

GVFFA Fireworks show 2015

Adjustments to the show this year, caused by a change in the level of the tide at showtime, means the fireworks will be fired from the parks shore edge, instead of the beach.

Regulations being what they are, the public and the bonfire, etc. must be kept back a prescribed distance, which in our situation, puts the barriers around the location the level changes in the park.


This is unfortunate, because this section of the park is the first area to get flooded when it rains, and with a weather prediction of Pineapple Express levels of rainfall we see the potential for a last minute change.

Should that be the case, we will post an update on Facebook.

Update- the weather cooperated and the show went off without a hitch. People seemed to like the new arrangement and thoroughly enjoyed the show.

A big thank you to everyone who contributed to the fundraising for the show. It wouldn’t go on without you.

Hear the beep when you sleep- smoke detectors

New sensor technology as well as battery improvements have evolved a new generation of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that last for their entire 10 year life without having to install new batteries.

This makes the problem of retro fitting existing houses with dectors extremely simple, especially now that installing a detector in every bedroom has been realized as a sensible thing to do, and will be required by the building code.

One company, Kidde, manufactures units for various areas-kitchen, high ceiling, combination carbon monoxide and smoke detection, as well as units with lights built in.

Other than vacuuming them periodically there is no maintenance required for their entire lifespan, and most importantly , they function during a power outage when people are more likely to have a fire start from the use of candles.



Electric weed-eater policy change

With the continuing extreme fire hazard, we have weighed the risk factors and concluded the use of battery powered or corded electric weed eaters, with nylon line, used in early shift (before 1pm and watching the site for an hour following) likely poses less of a risk of a fire than the long grass itself.

Therefore we have removed them from the list of restricted items whose use is prohibited under these regulations.

A charged hose or fire extinguisher must be in close proximity as a precaution.

It’s best not to try to cut the grass so short that you end up firing rocks and dirt around, and therefore increase the risk of an ignition of nearby combustibles.

Fire behaviour in the wildland/urban interface

At the recent community hall meeting, many people asked what they could do to help. Our primary message was to be prepared to look after yourself, and not add to the burden of the emergency services.

Another huge contribution would be to ‘fire smart’ your property- remove the fuels, be they twigs and ladder fuels or oily rags and other sources of combustion.

The following 20 minute video is is used as part of a training program for firefighters who respond to wildland/urban interface (WUI) fires. It gives a reasonable perspective on how a bush or forest fire might spread, the various fuels that will spread them, and what you can do for yourself to enormously increase the chances of your home surviving such an event.

Debris fire

Debris fire on July 10th, 2015Two fire pages came in just before 3:30 on July 10th. One was for a structure fire, and the other a bush fire. Crews arrived on scene at the structure page to find a pile of debris burning in proximity to a building, a boat and a utility trailer. The fire was quickly knocked down, while other crews searched for the bush fire. It was soon determined these were the same event, much to everyone’s relief. It is thought the fire started in amongst some paint cans and possibly some oil or solvent covered rags.

No one was home at the time, and neighbours and passersby called 911 and worked to contain the blaze and remove lumber from the proximity.

I understand this is another area with poor cell service, and the caller had some problems getting through to the 911 dispatchers.


We are now at that level of extreme fire hazard where shutdown is in place. Most powered equipment- gas, diesel and electric- have restrictions under this category. Building construction tools, such as table saws and air compressors that are safely located may be used. There are also certain low-risk industrial activities- such as digging a foundation- that are also permitted. If you have any concerns or questions, please contact the Fire Officer on duty at 250-755-9289.

Remembering Albert Reed

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.


Summer Winds

summer-winds-fire1The warm summer winds bring another type of hazard to the island. Not only drying the moisture from the island, but causing branches and trees to fall and break hydro lines. These high voltage wires are extremely dangerous should you come in contact with one ( stay back 10m) , and can start a fire in an instant. That is what we were paged out to this morning.

Luckily the wire fell into an area that was damp enough that the fire did not spread quickly, allowing the crew to wait for the BCHyro crew to attend and de-energize the wire.

Should the fire crew need to suppress a spreading fire before the power can be shut off, we would shoot a high pressure fog spray into the air over the fire, and allow the water to fall down in an electrically non-conductive rainstorm. Never apply a direct hose stream onto anything you suspect could be electrically energized.


Fire Season is here

Fire season is the time of year from April 1 to October 15. During these months certain rules are in place that are somewhat relaxed during the rest of the year.

Please familiarize yourself with the various hazard levels and restrictions posted elsewhere on this site.

Also, please remember that smoke is an issue that creates problems all year round please ensure any burning is conducted as smoke free as possible.

Fire extinguishers

Fire extinguishers come in all kinds of sizes, and contain many different extinguishing agents.

Pressurized water, some with chemical additives, pressurized carbon dioxide (CO2), pressurized Halon gases are some special purpose examples, but the most commonly found extinguishers are pressurized dry chemical, which contain a variety of powders, some that are similar to baking soda.

Dry Chem, as they are known, extinguishers typically are rated for use on 3 of the 4 types of fires commonly found in homes – A,B, and C .

‘A’ fires are paper, wood, ‘B’ are oil and grease, and ‘C’ are energized electrical fires. ‘D’ fires, which are burning metals, like aluminum or magnesium, are generally not found outside of industry , or a well involved vehicle fire.

(A quick word on grease fires- never try to move a burning pan of hot oil, sliding a dry lid over the pan usually will extinguish it without further drama. Be sure to turn off the element as well.)

All extinguishers are very user friendly, and with a little knowledge, very effective. The ‘PASS’ word is all you will need to remember should you be faced with a fire and have made the personal decision to safely try to extinguish it.

-Pull the safety pin

-Aim at the base of the fire ( not the top of the Flames)

-Squeeze the handle gently to start the discharge of suppressant

-Sweep gently side to side over the seat of the fire.

Most fires in the start up phase (incipient) require a relatively small amount of suppressant to be extinguished, so use one second blasts and monitor the results, rather than dumping the entire contents all at once. The extinguisher does not create a lot of back pressure, so do not fear being knocked over when discharging.

Fire extinguishers have to be examined to ensure they are still functional, and haven’t been tampered with. The gauge should read full and the pin retaining plastic tie should be intact.

They should be mounted in an easy to reach location that is near an exit, so you aren’t seaching in a cabinet while the fire gets bigger and blocks your escape.

All extinguishers need immediate attention once they have been used, do not hang it up again as it will not work the next time.

After 6 years they need to be professionally examined, and at 12 years they need it again as well as having a pressure test.

This only applies to quality fire extinguishers with metal discharge valves. The ones with plastic valves are throw away items after 6 years.

The GVFD sells top quality fire extinguishers at Firehall 1, so give us a call- 250-247-9677. If you would like a personal lesson, we can do that too.

Flashing Lights

Have you ever noticed one or more vehicles approaching with their 4 way flashers on?  These are firefighters, ambulance parmedics, or local doctors responding to a callout, and requesting permission to get past you.

Flashing lights do not give anyone permission to exceed the speed limit, or to drive recklessly, and hopefully no one does, but the sooner they can get to their destination the sooner someone in an emergency situation will get the attention they need.

If you see a vehicle with flashing lights approaching, please allow that driver to safely pass, and hopefully everyone will have a better day.

Cell phones for emergencies while out walking

We recently responded to a call to extricate an injured person from the 707 park. It was just after dark when a neighbour heard faint calls for help from well inside that location. Had those calls not been heard – at best- it would had resulted in a much longer wait until they were discovered.

I strongly encourage carrying a cell phone while out in our less travelled areas. Aside from being injured while alone, having to leave an injured friend or pet to get help would be equally traumatic for all involved. Ironically, the 707 park is one part of Gabriola that does get an adequate cell signal.

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