Archive for Author Rick Jackson

About the Author: Rick Jackson
Gabriola Island's fire chief.
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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.

More on burning issues

The following was a reply to a previous post that I overlooked, but I think warrants some discussion:

Submitted on 2015/01/30 at 4:58 pm

The problem is not just that people burn garbage but stinking, toxic smoke coming from improperly burned woodstoves is really everywhere on the island. People burn wet or not well seasoned fire wood and do not care. Even if you tell people that a lot of smoke is coming out of their chimney they don’t do anything about it.

Another toxic issue is open burning. People burn everthing from wet leaves to wet wood and who knows what else and nothing is being done about it. Open burning has been tolerated too long . You cannot do this in this day and age and say that you care about the environment.The only solution here is a total open burning ban, like in all civilized communities. I really think that we have to take drastic measures in order to get the message across.I think we need a combined effort between the fire department and IslandTrust to take action. I did not mention the RDN, because despite my emails to Howard Houle about this subject, he chose to ignore them.

The last time the subject of open burning was brought up was by the fire dept during a review of our bylaws a few years back. At that time their were some people who felt as you do, but the overwhelming majority indicated open burning – with controls- was acceptable. While this may qualify our island as somewhat uncivilized, it seems we are rather small potatoes, given the direction our country and the western world in general has taken regarding pollution of all kinds these last number of years.

Having said that, their are burning regulations in place on Gabriola that regulate open burning, if not home wood heaters, and they need to be followed in order to reduce the smoke impact. I agree that wet and unseasoned wood contributes the most to the problem, and the majority of that comes from home heating, not open burning.

Our duty officers will respond and to any open burning complaints and do our best to ensure proper procedures are being followed, but often we find a message on the answering machine after the fact, and the evidence has vanished into thin air. Sorry, bad pun.

Unless an open burn is an actual fire threat, the non emergency contact number should be used to inform the department, not  911. In that event everyone’s pagers will go off and the entire department and much equipment will be dispatched.

With regards to our RND rep, please don’t be too quick to dismiss him as ignoring you. Especially as I, in my blogging ineptitude, only discovered your January reply today, on March 5th.

Burning garbage

Some people still feel it’s ok to to stuff their plastic and paper garbage into their woodstove as a way of dealing with it. We often receive complaints about this, but if it’s after the fact, not much can be done about it.

When someone is all cozy inside their home, they are probably not even aware of the stink and discomfort they are bestowing upon their neighbours. But the neighbours often are, and often know exactly whose chimney it’s coming from.

Under provincial regulations it’s illegal – as well as very inconsiderate – to pollute the air this way. I always encourage people to try and point out the problem to the offending neighbour in a friendly manner while it is happening- as it’s harder to deny any involvement when the smoke is pouring out of the chimney.

In my opinion, if Gabriola is to remain a place where we can continue to enjoy the benefits of wood burning, we need to make sure we do it correctly and not empower the winds of change with the end result being a permanent fire ban.

Working smoke detectors save lives

A seven year old boy from Nanaimo has died after he was overcome by fumes in a fire at his home this past week. A passing RCMP officer spotted the flames and alerted the family. He attempted to reach the boy on the second floor, but was unable to, due to the smoke and heat. Had it not been for the officer noticing the fire when he did, this tragedy would have been even worse.

I understand there was not a working smoke detector at this location. Had there been one the chances are very good that all of the family would have been alerted in ample time to escape.

PLEASE! Check to make sure your smoke detectors are operational, and less than 10 years old. If you can’t afford to buy one, call the Gabriola Fire Department (250-247-9677) and we will give you one.

With today’s cheap smoke detector technology their is no reason for people to die – usually in their sleep from carbon monoxide suffocation – in a fire.

Canada still has an unacceptably high rate of such deaths.

Another danger from freezing weather

This past Sunday our department was paged out for an “explosion and fire” at a residence that demonstrated the incredible power of freezing and steam.

The owners were away and the plumbing – including the heat exchanger in the wood stove – had frozen up. Some friends had come by and lit a fire hoping to defrost the place. A while after lighting the woodstove they heard a hissing sound,  followed by an incredibly destructive blast that demolished the stove, sending shrapnel throughout the house and yard, blowing out a number of windows and skylights.

One person was badly injured by the flying debris, and a number of small fires were started throughout the house from the stoves burning contents.

The picture above is of the remains of the heat exchanger from the woodstove, once a rectangular shape like the bottom section. The 3/16″ thick stainless steel was no match for the damage from freezing and then from the forces generated by the steam. For a mathematical perspective – a steam plant engineer has stated that 6 gallons of water heated to 350’F has the explosive force of 1 lb. of TNT. After seeing the damage to this home, I can say I have no problem believing those figures.

The New No. 6 – Duty Officer Vehicle

Gabriola truck number 6


Our new Honda Ridgeline is now in service as the Duty Officer vehicle. It is the first to respond to most incidents, equipt with medical equipment including an AED, a Thermal imaging camera (TIC), as well as fire extinguishers and incident command materials. It offers the convenience of a 4 door vehicle for carrying members, as well as a box for the occasional dirty, bulky thing it needs to move, and lots of compartments to stow it all in.

It replaces our Honda Element (No.7) which has been a great front line vehicle, and now is in service for medical call responses from Hall 2.

Electrical fire

burned-plugWe recently responded to a page for a structure fire. On arrival we found the house full of acrid plastic smelling smoke. The home owner directed us to the clothes dryer which had smoke rising from behind it. We immediately shut off the electrical breaker, determined that their were no flames present, and pulled the dryer out from the wall. We used our Thermal imaging camera (TIC) to determine that no heat or flames was present in the wall itself.

The problem was caused by a fault in the plug. Possibly the copper conductors inside had been damaged at some point while removing it, possibly by pulling the plug out by the wire.

If any of those copper conducting wires attaching the plug to the cord are broken, the electricity flows through the fewer remaining wires, and the resistance caused by this reduced conductor size generates heat, which can build up and further damage the plug.

Eventually the heat becomes great enough that the plastic starts to melt and / or burn.

If you have a plug or electrical cord that you suspect may be too hot, have it inspected by a qualified person.

Open house! And fire safety week

October 5th to 12th is Fire Safety week. Please take the time to ensure all of your fire safety devices and fire escape plan are functional.

On Saturday October 11th we will be hosting an open house at Hall 1. It starts at noon, and goes until 3pm. We’ll have a fire hose for kids of all ages to try, some other fire fighting equipment demonstrations, and hot dogs and beverages by donations- proceeds toward our annual firework show. Application forms will also be available, so feel free to enquire if you have been contemplating becoming a fire fighter.

For your family’s safety:

Please ensure your smoke detectors are functional and are less than 10 years old. The BC building code requires one on each level of your home. The latest code requires one in each bedroom as well. Battery powered smoke detectors are acceptable, and are in some ways are preferable, as the 110V wired in models don’t work during a power outage- when we are most likely to be using candles! A battery powered detector located by the 110V- or a modern 110V one with a built in battery backup one is a good idea as well.

Special smoke detectors are available for the hearing impaired, as well as for areas that often give a false alarm, such as kitchens. Please call us if you would like more info on these. (250-247-9677 – office and message)

Fire extinguishers need to be examined on a regular basis to ensure they are operational- essentially that the pin retainer is intact, and the gauge is reading full. They need to be professionally serviced every 6 years. This service is reasonably cheap- much less than the price purchasing a new extinguisher. If in doubt, give us a call for info about where to take it.

It is a sensible idea to have an extinguisher on each level of your home. Mount them by the exit, as you don’t want to be searching for it in time of need. We sell top quality 5-pound ABC fire extinguishers at Hall 1 for wholesale prices.

Bicycle safety on Gabriola

I’m sure anyone who has been on Gabriola for a even a short time realizes that this can be a dangerous place to ride a bicycle.

Every year our department responds to a number of bicycle accidents involving injuries, and this situation is not about to improve from a highways development perspective.

Perhaps there should be a guide rating various Gulf Islands for their ease of riding, along with the safest routes for an enjoyable bicycle ride?

Little things like waiting until all of the vehicle traffic has left the ferry would certainly make riding up the hill safer, and more pleasant to breathe.

Smoke on the island

A slightly orange light and a distinct smell of smoke is lingering around the island and is expected to persist for a number of days, according to a BCForest service report.

Outflow weather from the interior has brought the smoke of many forest fires into our airshed.

With this situation comes the danger of people becoming complacent with the smell of smoke, and a actual emergency could be masked, and a 911 call delayed for longer than might otherwise be the case.

Power equipment usage during restrictions

We have received some question regarding power equipment usage during restricted times. Generally speaking these restrictions apply to machines that are likely to cause an issue- chainsaws, lawnmowers, weed-eaters, as well as heavy equipment such as backhoes and excavators.

The BC Forest service issues a list of different types of jobs and their relative risk factors that our department uses as a guideline. Logging, for instance has a high fire risk factor during very dry weather and so it is restricted. Loading those logs onto a truck at a roadside dump is considered a low risk hazard and therefore is allowed. Digging an excavation to build a house in an area already cleared is also low risk, as is running a compactor or generator inside an area like a foundation.

Which brings me back to the original question- skill saws, electric drills, compressors and other such construction tools generally would be a low hazard application, and as long as there isn’t a potential issue created by piled up sawdust or chips -a fuel load- then these should be acceptable to use during restrictions.

If in doubt, please call us, as knowing who is doing what and where is beneficial knowledge to us in the event of a problem or complaint.

Our department’s marine division


The Gabriola fire protection bylaws extend our jurisdiction 100m from the shore into the ocean to give us the authority to respond to incidents on docks, etc.

In recent years we have had to respond to a couple of incidents involving people in the water, so our Cpt. Will Sprogis repaired this inflatable boat he discovered in someone’s trash. Pictured is Lt. Nigel Denholm piloting our new marine division.

For a more serious marine incident, be would be assisted by the Coast Guard, Nanaimo Fire Dept’s firefighting vessel Eagle, as well as any other vessels that are deemed necessary to support our dept.

Spontaneous combustion in a flower planter

imageRecently a women called the fire dept after she noticed smoke coming from this planter on her deck. Upon closer examination it was evident that there was a lot of heat generated, melting the planter. The planter was full of soil and topped with peat moss. Moist peat moss has been known to spontaneously combust. This is also a danger with damp BBQ briquettes, and of course oily or greasy rags.

(Click image to see a larger version of the photo.)

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